Literary Daybook, April 11

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published April 11, 2002 8:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On April 11, 1863, Lt. John Dunbar arrives at Fort Sedgewick.
-- "Dances With Wolves" (1991)
by Michael Blake

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1931, Dorothy Parker stepped down as drama critic for the New Yorker, so ending the "Reign of Terror" she endured while reviewing plays, and that others endured while being reviewed by her. This last stint she was only a two-month stand-in for Robert Benchley, and altogether she reviewed plays for only a half-dozen years in a 50-year career, but Parker's Broadway days brought her first fame and occasioned some of her most frequently quoted lines.

Parker's debut column at Vanity Fair in 1918 was that of a 24-year-old newcomer filling in for P. G. Wodehouse, but it gave notice: Of the five musical comedies reviewed, one got "if you don't knit, bring a book"; another got a review that did not include any names, because she was "not going to tell on them"; another did not get reviewed at all, Parker deciding instead to review the performance of the woman sitting next to her as she searched for her lost glove.

Though fired after two years at Vanity Fair, Parker had another three years as drama critic for the literary magazine Ainslee's, and contributed reviews to the first few issues of the New Yorker in 1925. But the job had become dreary by this time, and Parker's own writing career was well underway. So too were the drinking, the suicide attempts and the string of broken relationships -- including one with Hemingway, which declined from her praising his "grace under pressure" novels to his writing of "Dottie under hatchet" poems:

Little drops of grain alcohol
Little slugs of gin
Make the mighty notions
Make the double chin --
Lovely Mrs. Parker in the Algonquin
Loves her good dog Robinson
Keeps away from sin
Mr. Hemingway now wears glasses
Better to see to kiss the critics' asses --

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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