The Best of Dorothy Parker

Illustrated by Helen Smithson

Introduced by Mervyn Horder

Enjoy The Best of Dorothy Parker in The Folio Society’s new edition of poetry and short stories from the greatest wit of her age, with the era-defining graphic illustrations of Helen Smithson.


‘Her reputation as a wit obscures her genuine achievements – short stories that still dazzle and decades of political activism’ 

  1. The Guardian

Poet, theatre critic, raconteur, philanthropist – Dorothy Parker was all of these and so much more. And while her quotes and one-liners were laugh-out-loud caustic keepers, this selection delves deeper into Parker’s literary repertoire, bringing together the best of her short fiction and poetry in a gorgeous new edition with a binding as dazzling, and illustrations as attention-grabbing, as the words they surround. From droll and pithy to heartfelt and melancholy, the entries have been carefully chosen to show off Parker’s creative flexibility. The order follows no discernible logic; it simply reflects her wonderful writerly train of thought.

Wit has truth in it. Wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.

Production details

Bound in cloth printed and blocked with a design by Jamie Keenan

Set in Goudy Old Style with Spartan Bold display

256 pages

8 integrated black & white illustrations

Plain slipcase

8¾˝ x 5½˝

A woman in her element in a man’s world

Parker’s effortless quick wit, enviable mastery of the English language and the endurance of her spirit means her work remains widely admired and habitually quoted. A New Yorker through and through, she had the city in the palm of her hand at a time when offices and social institutions still revolved around the old boys’ network. Such was her charm and influence that Parker was a founding member of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table – a group of writers, actors, critics and editors who regularly met in the Pergola Room of the Algonquin Hotel for lunches fuelled by booze and literary banter.

Incredibly, illustrator Helen Smithson has managed to capture the many facets of Parker’s personality in her captivating line drawings. Like Parker herself, the illustrations are more than the sum of their parts; simple black-and-white sketches that offer incredible insight into the woman behind the brash mouth and big personality.

Take me or leave me, or as is the usual order of things, both.

A tortured soul with a razor-sharp tongue

Like many blessed with a creative gift, Parker was also plagued with a predilection for liquor and a descent into dark thoughts that resulted in multiple suicide attempts. Never one to mince her words, even the subject of her own failed demise wasn’t off-limits and she speaks candidly about suicide in her poem Résumé. From her troubled childhood to her catalogue of failed relationships, Parker could make light of any situation with borderline profanity. However, she frequently turned her hand to serious prose and was as likely to use herself as the subject of her outpourings as the other people she encountered.


Arrangement in Black and White
The Dark Girl’s Rhyme
A Very Short Song
The Sexes
The Satin Dress
Chant for Dark Hours
The Waltz
I Know I Have Been Happiest
De Profundis
The Immortals
Pictures in the Smoke
The Standard of Living
Now at Liberty
Portrait of the Artist
Reuben’s Children
Ballade of a Great Weariness
A Telephone Call
Love Song
The Burned Child
Here We Are
Symptom Recital
Song of One of the Girls
The Choice
Dusk Before Fireworks
The Second Oldest Story
Ballade at Thirty-five
You Were Perfectly Fine
A Pig’s-eye View of Literature
Mortal Enemy
Too Bad

Unfortunate Coincidence
Just a Little One
The Homebody
Partial Comfort
Second Love
Superfluous Advice
The Whistling Girl
The Little Hours
For a Favourite Granddaughter
Vers Démodé
From a Letter from Lesbia
News Item
Sonnet for the End of a Sequence
The Flaw in Paganism
New York to Detroit
Purposely Ungrammatical Love Song
General Review of the Sex Situation
Social Note
From the Diary of a New York Lady
One Perfect Rose
Sonnet on an Alpine Night
Words of Comfort to be Scratched on a Mirror
The Lady’s Reward
War Song
Thought for a Sunshiny Morning
Clothe the Naked
Prayer for a New Mother
Tombstones in the Starlight
For a Sad Lady
Indian Summer
Faute de Mieux
The Lovely Leave
Ballade of a Talked-off Ear
Prologue to a Saga
The Last Question
Cousin Larry
Big Blonde


Dorothy Parker was born in New Jersey in 1893. She grew up in Manhattan, attending a Catholic grammar school and afterwards a finishing school. Her literary career began in 1914 when Parker began an editorial job at Vogue, she was 21. In 1917 she went to work at Vanity Fair as the theatre critic but continued to write poems for other magazines and newspapers. As her reputation increased, she became a well-known face among the literary circle of New York, and in 1919 Parker co-founded the Algonquin Round Table writers’ group. Her first poetry collection, Enough Rope (1926), was a bestseller and she followed this with Sunset Gun (1928) and Death and Taxes (1931). Parker’s fiction collection Laments for the Living was published in 1930. Parker wrote numerous screenplays for MGM and Paramount with her second husband Alan Campbell, and continued writing short fiction. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1959 and died in New York in 1967, aged 73.


Mervyn Horder was born in 1910 in London and was the son of the first Baron Horder of Ashford, becoming the second Baron when his father died in 1955. Horder studied at Winchester College and then Trinity College, Cambridge, but also had a keen interest in music that led to him attending the Guildhall School of Music. However, despite his talent as a pianist, Horder followed a career path in publishing. He was chairman of Duckworth from 1948 to 1970, during which time the company published new titles, as well as selling their extensive backlist. He became known as the ‘gentleman publisher’ and was much loved in literary circles. He returned to music after leaving Duckworth’s and composed songs, carols and piano pieces. Horder died aged 86 in 1997.


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