An appropriate “lost” piece for February. When Dorothy Parker wrote this for Vanity Fair she was 23 and in the first year of her staff job on Vogue. In 1917 she married Edwin Pond Parker II before he left for Army service in the Great War.
Why I Haven’t Married
Sketches of My Seven Deadly Suitors
By Dorothy Rothschild
Vanity Fair, October, 1916
I. Ralph, Whose Place Was in the Home
You see, this was the way it happened. The first one of them all was Ralph. His was one of those sweet, unsullied natures that believes everything it sees in the papers, and no matter what I said, he would gaze into my eyes and murmur “yes.” He had positively cloying ideas about women. If any girl in his vicinity lit a cigarette, Ralph’s eyes, behind their convex lenses, assumed the expression of a wounded doe’s. He superfluously assisted me up and down curbs; he was always inserting needless cushions behind my back. He laboriously brought me a host of presents that I didn’t want—friendship calendars, sixth-best sellers, and the kind of flowers that one puts in vases—but never wears. He had acquired a remarkable muscular development merely from helping me on with so many wraps and coats. His greatest fault was his lack of them.
I felt that life with Ralph would be a deep dream of peace, and I was just on the verge of giving him his answer and receiving his virginal kiss, when, in a flash of clairvoyance, I had a startlingly clear vision of the future. I seemed to see us—Ralph and me—settled down in an own-your-own bungalow in a twenty-minute suburb. I saw myself surrounded by a horde of wraps and sofa pillows. I saw us gathered around the lamp of a winter evening, reading aloud from Hiawatha. I saw myself a member of the Society Oppressed to Woman Suffrage…
So I told Ralph that I wouldn’t, just as gently as possible, and he went away to sob it out on his mother’s shoulder.
II. Maximilian, Table d’Hôte Socialist
Maximilian was the next disillusionment. He was an artist and had long nervous hands and a trick of impatiently tossing his hair out of his eyes. He capitalized the A in art. Together we plumbed the depths of Greenwich Village, seldom coming above Fourteenth Street for air. We dined in those how-can-they-do-it-for-fifty-cents table d’hôtes, where Maximilian and his little group of serious thinkers were wont to gather about dank bottles of sinister claret and flourish marked copies of The Masses. I learned to make sweeping gestures with my bent-back thumb, to smile tolerantly at the mention of John Sargent; to use all the technical terms when I discussed Neo-Malthusianism. Maximilian made love in an impersonal sort of way. He called me “Comrade” and flung a casual arm across my shoulders whenever he happened to think of it.
But the end came. Maximilian painted my portrait. Chaperoned by an astounded aunt, I posed for him in an utterly inadequate bit of green gauze; posed until every muscle ached. Finally, one day, Maximilian flung his brush across the room—narrowly missing my aunt—threw himself in a chair, and wearily drew his hand across his eyes, murmuring, “It is done.”
I stole around and looked over his shoulder at the canvas—and immediately Love went out of my life. Reader—are you by any chance a pool-player? Well, the only thing I can think that the portrait resembled was what is known in pool circles as an “open break.” I turned and fled from Max and Bohemia. I didn’t know much about Art, but I knew what I didn’t like.
III. Jim—Of Broadway
Perhaps it was only natural that the next one should be Jim. He was a thirty-third degree man about town. He could tell at a glance which one of the Dolly Sisters was Mrs. Harry Fox, and he could keep track of Nat Goodwin’s marriages without calling in the aid of an expert accountant and a Burrowes adding machine. His peacock blue Rolls-Royce had worn a deep groove in Broadway and his checked suits kept just within the law about disturbing the public peace. Jim was a man of few words; his love-making consisted of two phrases—“What are you going to have?” and “Where do we go from here?” I shall never forget the thrill of entering restaurant after restaurant with Jim and watching the headwaiters do everything but kiss him.
It was an idyll, while it lasted. We used to sit, a table’s breadth apart, at cabarets, and shriek soft nothings at each other above the blare of the Nubian band, while waiters literally groveled at our feet. Jim gave me the deepest, truest love he had ever given a woman. In his affections I was rated third—first, and second, Haig and Haig; and then, third, me. I began to feel that life with him would be one long all-night cabaret, and I was just about to become the owner of the largest engagement ring in the city, when, one night we went to a dinner. Not a cabaret dinner, but one where two famous authors sat and ate with their forks, just like regular people. Everyone was properly stricken with awe—everyone that is, but Jim. While the rest of us hung on the gloomy utterances of the authors, Jim loudly discussed (with a kindred spirit across the table) the certainty of Hatrack’s winning the fourth race at Belmont Park, offering to back his conviction with a large quantity of coin of the realm, and urging that his friend either produce a similar amount of currency, or else desist from arguing. Under cover of the table, I kicked him into quietude. Presently a point was reached in the lofty-browed discourse whereon the two celebrities differed, and, as if going to the right source for information, they turned to Jim.
“Now what is your opinion of Baudelaire?” they inquired.
Jim looked up with the same perfectly-at-home air with which he entered the New Amsterdam Theatre on the first night of the Follies.
“I really can’t say,” he explained, affably, “I’ve never seen him get a good sweat-out in practice.”
The silence that ensued seems still to crash in my ears…
IV. Cyril, Hero of the Social Register
Cyril, the next event, was almost the man. People are still shaking their heads over my idiocy in not taking him. You see, he had practically all the money in the world, and the plot of the Social Register was almost entirely written around his family. In spite of all that he was most amazingly intelligent. In fact he had such a disconcertingly remarkable memory that every time I said a clever thing, he remembered just who had written it. Cyril led a blameless life; whatever he did, one might rest assured was Being Done. His was a perfect day, from his cold shower at 11:30 to his appearance at the opera, exactly three-quarters of an hour late. The one religious rite in his life was his weekly pilgrimage to a sacred Mecca up the Hudson, to assist at the mystic ceremonies of the smartest week-end in America. His clothes—but who am I to write of them? It would require all the passionate lyricism of a Swinburne to do them justice. He made the debonair young gentlemen in the clothing advertisements looks as if they’d been working on the railroad. Collars were named for him. What more can be said?
Yes, Cyril was faultless. I had almost decided to devote my life to living up to him, when, one terrible night I found a hideous flaw in him. It was at the opera. I remember that it was one of those awful German atrocities, and the stage was full of large, strong women, shouting “Yo ho” at each other. Relentless Fate directed my gaze at Cyril’s left hand, as he sat there all unconscious in the box. And I saw it! Saw that his white glove, the glove of Cyril the impeccable, had split like that of a mere broker or bank clerk, split all the way around the thumb, the edges gaping like a hideous wound, and a part of his hand exposed in all its glaring nudity. I hid my eyes, but the sight had seared my brain…
V. Lorenzo, the Life of the Party
Lorenzo was the next occurrence. Never have I seen anyone so bubbling over with good, clean fun. He specialized in parlor tricks. Give him but a length of string, three matches, and a lump of sugar, and he would be the life of the party for an entire evening. He had an uncanny habit of leaving the room for two minutes and, on his return, telling you exactly what card you had drawn from the pack. He had amassed a great repertoire of parlor anecdotes in Irish and Negro dialects. It was he who wrote most of the jokes about the Ford car. It broke Lorenzo’s heart to see people wasting their lives in mere conversation; he panted to gather them all in a big circle and play guessing-games. Nor did he care for one-steps, fox-trots, or such selfish dances; no, Lorenzo insisted on Paul Joneses and Virginia reels, so that all the people could get to know each other.
He did imitations, too, of bumblebees and roosters and fog-horns and of a man sawing wood. This last imitation had amazing touches of realism in it, especially when he came to the knot-holes. Lorenzo was not a fanatic on athletics; he didn’t go in for golf or tennis, but he certainly played a rattling good game of Parcheesi.
Life with Lorenzo might have been a continuous round of innocent little parlor tricks and yet—those tricks were the drawbacks to my happiness. I feared he might so perfect himself in his chosen art that I could never know at which moment he was going to reach over and take a guinea pig out of my hair, or remove the flags of all nations from my unsuspecting ears. The nervous strain would have been too great; and so we parted.
VI. Bob, Son of Battle
Bob came next. I had always thought the American flag was the personal property of George M. Cohan until I met Bob and found that Mr. Cohan had ceded a half-interest in it to him. Bob was every inch a soldier, and you never could forget it. He wore his khaki uniform wherever it was possible (or even probable) and he always wore his chest well swelled out, the better to display his badge of honor—that awe-inspiring little bit of red ribbon that meant he kept his gun cleaner than any one else in his tent. The word “preparedness” was to him as a red flag to an anarchist. He lived but for the season at Plattsburg. He even carried the thing so far as to stand outside of a property tent, with all the persuasiveness of a Billy Sunday, exhorting the halt, the maimed, and the blind to enlist, like little men. He spoke tenderly and at great length of his horse, which, I gathered from his conversation, shared his pillow. He used to relate little anecdotes of its startlingly human intelligence. It walked, it ran, it neighed, it slept, it evinced a liking for oats. It even—yet some there are who say that dumb beasts have no souls—had been known to whisk away flies with its tail. Bob was a martial and God-fearing youth. I feel sure that every night before he went to bed he knelt down and asked General Leonard Wood to bless him and make him a good boy.
The thing was almost settled. You know there’s something about a uniform—full or empty—and then those military weddings with crossed swords are always so picturesque. We were just going to announce it, when a cruel summons came for Bob to leave for Mexico with his troop. He left me, tenderly vowing to bring back Carranza’s head to put upon my mantelpiece—and then, while he was gone, Paul happened.
VII. Paul, the Vanished Dream
I cannot dwell on Paul, the last one. I have not yet fully recovered from him. He was the Ideal Husband—an English-tailored Greek God, just masterful enough to be entertaining, just wicked enough to be exciting, just clever enough to be a good audience. But, oh, he failed me! In a moment of absent-mindedness, he went and married a blonde and rounded person whose walk in life was the runway at the Winter Garden. I am just beginning to recuperate.
And these are the seven reasons why my mail is still being addressed to “Miss.”
More lost pieces written by Dorothy Parker will be presented in 2017, the fiftieth anniversary of her death. The Dorothy Parker Society published a lost Hemingway book review last month.