Thursday, July 13, 2006

BOOKS: Are You a Wounded Cynic or a Happy Doofus?

What differentiates human beings from other animals is that we're able to hold two diametrically opposed opinions without having our brains explode. This must be the reason why I like Dorothy Parker and A.A. Milne, Ms. Parker's literary contemporary and mortal enemy, and list them both among my favourite short story writers.

If you've ever read any of Parker's literary criticism, you know I'm not exaggerating. She loathed Milne and his pantheon of characters, leading with Winnie-the-Pooh.
In a shifting, sliding world, it is something to know that Mr. A.A. "Whimsy-the-Pooh" Milne stands steady. He may, tease that he is, delude us into thinking for a while that he has changed; that we are all grown up now, and so he may be delicately bitter and even a little pleasurably weary, in front of us; and then, suddenly as the roguish sun darting from the cloud, or the little crocus popping into bloom, or the ton of coal clattering down the chute, he is our own Christopher Robin again, and everything is hippity-hoppity as of old.
Ouch. If you didn't feel the sting in that, take this excerpt from her review of The House on Pooh Corner:
It "seemed to [Pooh] a Good Hum, such as is Hummed Hopefully to Others." In fact, so Good a Hum did it seem that he and Piglet started right out through the snow to Hum It Hopefully to Eeyore. Oh, darn -- there I've gone and given away the plot. Oh, I could bite my tongue out.
The thing is, I can sort of see what Parker is talking about. It's like when you find out that someone whose opinion you respect feels complete abhorrance for a book or movie you love. You're sort of shocked at first, but then when they explain themselves you can see why it is they hate it, without suffering any change of sentiment yourself. I mean, I've read "Eeyore Has a Birthday" enough times to wonder how the hell it is that Pooh manages to forget that the pot of honey he's carrying is a birthday present, and then he conveniently remembers the minute after he's eaten all the honey. As a person of about average common sense, these actions trouble me. I can only imagine how someone of Parker's heightened sensitivity must feel.

In some ways, Parker is a sort of Eeyore herself, the wounded cynic who frequently has the clearest insights and gets the funniest one-liners, and who also bumps up the wrong way against happy doofuses like Pooh Bear. And much as the other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood often find themselves intimidated by Eeyore, to the extent that they occasionally give him a wide berth, Parker writes humorously of her own occasional pariah status at parties:
It has lately been drawn to your correspondant's attention that, at social gatherings, she is not the human magnet she would be. Indeed, it turns out that as a source of entertainment, conviviality, and good fun, she ranks somewhere between a sprig of parsley and a single ice-skate.
If that isn't an Eeyore-ish sentiment, I don't know what is. Don't believe me? Compare it to the following:
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it."
"Can't all what?" said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
"Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush."
"Oh!" said Pooh. He thought for a long time and then asked, "What mulberry bush is that?"
"Bon-hommy," went on Eeyore gloomily. "French word meaning bonhommy," he explained. "I'm not complaining, but There It Is."
Awww. I love Eeyore so. And that's probably why I'm able to like Parker and Milne simultaneously.

6 comments:

Diner Girl said...

Dorothy Parker. I often wish I could have sat next to her, drinking Sidecars and having a snide laugh at the world. She is the shiz-it.

Em said...

Is Cynical Doofus an option?

Dimestore Lipstick said...

"And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up."

She really didn't pull any punches when she reviewed Milne, did she?

Dimestore Lipstick said...

A poem by Dorothy Parker:

When We Were Very Sore
(Lines on Discovering That You Have Been Advertised as America's A. A. Milne.)

Dotty had
Great Big
Visions of
Quietude.
Dotty saw an
Ad, and it
Left her
Flat.
Dotty had a
Great Big
Snifter of
Cyanide.
And that (said Dotty)
Is that.

St. Eph said...

So this is what it takes to jog me out of lurkerdom--the opportunity to cheer on a fellow Parker/Milne afficionada. While it is not enough to make me admit that I have not one but two tattoos of the original art from the story of Eeyore's birthday, I would like to share my favorite Parkerism, in which she gets in a jibe at another favorite:

"Sometimes I think I'll just go completely Russian and sit on a stove and moan all day."

(I blame both of them for my tendency toward overly long sentences.)

Thanks for a lovely blog-thing.

Diablevert said...

I received, as a very generous Christmas present, the New Yorker on DVD, and the fisrt thing I did with it was read all of Parker. Scarfed down in gulps, certain little mannerisms can jut out and tickle the back of your throat in an irritating manner --- the faux-jaunty, woe-is-me-the- lonely-reviewer openings she often uses for instance --- but to write a review of a book which is still funny 80 years later when both book and author are long dead and forgotten is motherfucking genius.

I still don't think she gets enough props for her stories...

My fav line is her answer when asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence....