Dorothy Parker (1893–1967)
From American Christmas Stories
“Every year I buy them,—the Christmas magazines,” wrote Dorothy Parker in December 1916. “Every year I say, hopefully, ‘Perhaps this time.’ And every year I say, wearily, ‘Never again.’” Her annual disappointment was due to the formulaic quality of the short stories, which too often were versions of the syrupy recipe that she had christened “the inevitable story of the snowbound train.”
After Vanity Fair published her piece on Christmas magazines, Parker never rose to the challenge and wrote a Christmas classic herself. She did, however, write several Christmas poems—all of which continue to be frequently reprinted. One of them, “The Gentlest Lady,” was first published in McCall’s magazine in 1927, alongside selections by such luminaries as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elinor Wylie, and Edwin Arlington Robinson, in a feature titled “Christmas Poems by America’s Greatest Poets.” Another, “The Maid-Servant at the Inn,” is ubiquitous in collections of Christmas poetry.
Although Parker would quip that she “was just a little Jewish girl trying to be cute,” she was obviously fond of the holiday season. (Her father was Jewish; her mother and stepmother, both dead by the time she was nine, were Protestant.) Her feelings about her hometown were wrapped up with her feelings about Christmas; in 1928 she wrote, “I see New York at holiday time, always in the late afternoon, under a Maxfield Parrish sky, with the crowds even more quick and nervous but even more good-natured, the dark groups splashed with the white of Christmas packages, the lighted, holly-strung shops urging them in to buy more and more.”
That Vanity Fair story about the stories in Christmas magazines, published when she was still Dorothy Rothschild, was largely forgotten until recently, when Kevin Fitzpatrick, a historian and the founding president of the Dorothy Parker Society, resurrected it on his blog a few years back. It is included in the new Library of America collection American Christmas Stories, edited by best-selling novelist Connie Willis, and we present it as a Story of the Week selection with an introduction describing how the Christmas magazines came to be and how Parker’s apprenticeship at Vogue was “one of most decidedly mismatched hires in literary history.”