“Please God, don’t let me write like a woman”
Dorothy Parker was an extraordinary woman. Extraordinary in her writings and extraordinary in what she achieved with her writings. Her books of poems and her short stories were bestsellers and her columns in The New Yorker were extremely popular. She was one of the only women and a central figure of the Algonquin Hotel Round Table, where all the great literary geniuses of her time would eat their lunch. Newspaper columnists qouted her and two Broadway plays were written about her. Briefly,she was one of the most talked about woman of her time. What is striking is that her fame came from her writings. So much fame for a woman’s writings is unusual nowadays but let aside in her time. And besides that she was not a minor writer but her literary output in the end was quite small: two volumes of short stories and three of poetry.
The last decade of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth was a time of large scale political movements and social changes among women. A new generation of women writers emerged with Dorothy Parker as their most famous one. More oppurtunities for writers existed before the dominance of radio film and television. The newspapers and magazines flourished and only the area of New York City alone published 25 daily newspapers. The “New Women” as they were labeled were worried with winning women’s rights: the vote, education, economic freedom, acces to a career and a public voice. These women were educated and progressive and wanted a break with the conservative past. Women writers of the era did not see marrying and having children as their ultimate goal in life. They rejected the traditional women’s sphere and claimed a the territory of arts that had been a complete male territory before. Many feared to be thought of as “women writers”. Dorothy Parker said that her most fervent prayer had been “Please, God, don’t let me write like a woman”. Parker’s writings on the other hand were for the most part confined to women and to what is important to them. What made Parker so succesfull? What made that era crave her writings?
In order to understand Parker’s succes we need to view her works in the context of the time they were written. Dorothy Parker was born in 1893. The most striking evidence of change of the role of women in society at that time was the emergence of the college educated and self supporting new woman. By 1870 there were eleven thousand women students enrolled in higher education (21 procent of all students) and a decade later there were forty thousand women students enrolled in higher education (32 procent of all students). After they graduated they had to choose between a traditional role of domesticity and young marriage or a career of paid work. On August 26, 1920 women officially earn the right to vote by the 19th Amendment. Although women did not become a strong political force right after that the Amendment did increase the power of women to effect change. Another important aspect of the changes in women’s postion in society these years was the first world war. Although the United States participated in the war for a relatively short time and did people not really have a clue about what was going on in Europe the war did change American culture significantly. More than four million American men were were mobilized and sent off to Europe. One of the outcomes of this was that women entered the workforce in increasing numbers. Working not in only jobs that were particulary feminine jobs like nursing but also in offices and factories, in stores and governmental agencies and more. Women found themselves working in previously male-dominated fields and they were earning higher wages than in the past. These changes gave women a new notion of indepedence and self-confidence. In 1920 23.6% of the workforce was female with 8.6 million females, ages 15 and up, working outside the home. In 1920, for the first time in...
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