Thursday, 12 March 2015

Deal Me in Challenge: Oh! He's Charming! by Dorothy Parker

Card Drawn: 7 of Spades.

Penguin Classic editions tend to have some of the most well-designed and evocative covers around. Dorothy Parker's Complete Stories is one of them--a cartoon drawing of a woman peeking out of a men's washroom. Simple, candid, and a perfect representation of the author's strong feminist ideologies that constantly challenges the status quo; more specifically, the dominant social structures of patriarchy. Parker's irreverent and satirical critique of gender roles remains as bold today as it surely must have been during the the 1920's and 1930's when she was writing a lot of these stories. The Women's Rights Movement were at their peak in the U.S. during this time and Parker was right in the middle of it all. 

It would not surprise me in the least if Muriel Spark was largely influenced by the writings of Dorothy Parker. In fact, Spark's prose bears an eerie resemblance to Parker's with its satirical humor, sardonic wit, fast-paced dialogue, the use of irony and refusing to play by the conventional rules of narrative. Had the author of Oh! He's Charming! been keep anonymous, I would have been convinced that it came from the pen of Muriel Spark. The narrative consists largely of dialogue between a famous author and a a rabid female admirer of his work who reminded me of Annie Wilkes from Stephen King's Misery, except she doesn't drag him off to some remote cabin to torture the poor fellow. Instead, this woman in the story is so overwhelmed and hysterical to meet her favorite author, that she doesn't realize how ridiculous she appears to him. The dramatic irony employed by Parker is most effective to illustrate the dichotomy between both genders during social interaction. The woman is adamant to praises the author's virtuous character but we as readers know that he is far from honorable and more of a pompous douche-bag. The woman is keen to point out the author's superb talents at writing about women in his books with such accuracy but of course, he is a fraud. He knows absolutely nothing about women, is a male chauvinist and bases his female characters on people that he knows but she takes his writings as gospel.

Despite the sharp social commentary, the story is enjoyable enough and bustles along in a sprightly manner but does not seem to amount to anything substantial. The thinly veil contempt for male egotism lurks just beneath the surface and there exist brief moments of comedy. Not the laugh-out-loud hysterical type of comedy; more the silly, whimsical and "isn't that amusing" kind. The story feels more like a writing exercise. It pales in comparison to some of the other works in this collection that are more compelling in their social and political convictions.


  1. Sounds like a nice little story that would be fun to read for a diversion. And like you, I am extremely partial to the Penguin Classics covers. :-)

    1. Pretty much. Enjoyable enough but forgettable.

      Penguin Classics covers rule. Never judge a book by it's cover right? Guilty as charged.