In 1927, the year after her first collection of poetry, Enough Rope, was published to rave reviews, the eternally sarcastic and rightly celebrated satirist, critic, and founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker, found herself in hospital suffering from exhaustion—a condition brought on, in part, by a turbulent affair with American publisher Seward Collins during which they travelled to Europe and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her time in hospital was a welcome respite from the madness, but also irritatingly uneventful. On May 5th, she wrote a humorous letter to Collins and gave him an entertaining update on her visit.
Related: Parker’s telegram to her editor in 1945.
(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note.)
The Presbyterian Hospital
In the City of New York
41 East 70th St.
May 5, I think
Dear Seward, honest, what with music lessons and four attacks of measles and all that expense of having my teeth straightened, I was brought up more carefully than to write letters in pencil. But I asked the nurse for some ink—just asked her in a nice way—and she left the room and hasn’t been heard of from that day to this. So that, my dears, is how I met Major (later General) Grant.
Maybe only the trusties are allowed to play with ink.
I am practically bursting with health, and the medical world, hitherto white with suspense, is entertaining high hopes—I love that locution—you can just see the high hopes, all dressed up, being taken to the Hippodrome and then to Maillard’s for tea. Or maybe you can’t—the hell with it.
This is my favorite kind of hospital and everybody is very brisk and sterilized and kind and nice. But they are always sticking thermometers into you or turning lights on you or instructing you in occupational therapy (rug-making—there’s a fascinating pursuit!) and you don’t get a chance to gather any news for letter-writing.
Of course, if I thought you would listen, I could tell you about the cunning little tot of four who ran up and down the corridor all day long; and I think, from the way he sounded, he had his little horse-shoes on—some well-wisher had given him a bunch of keys to play with, and he jingled them as he ran, and just as he came to my door, the manly little fellow would drop them and when I got so I knew just when to expect the crash, he’d fool me and run by two or even three times without letting them go. Well, they took him up and operated on his shoulder, and they don’t think he will ever be able to use his right arm again. So that will stop that god damn nonsense.
And then there is the nurse who tells me she is afraid she is an incorrigible flirt, but somehow she just can’t help it. She also pronounces “picturesque” picture-skew, and “unique” un-i-kew, and it is amazing how often she manages to introduce these words into her conversation, leading the laughter herself. Also, when she leaves the room, she says “see you anon.” I have not shot her yet. Maybe Monday.
And, above all, there is the kindhearted if ineffectual gentleman across the hall, where he lies among his gallstones, who sent me in a turtle to play with. Honest. Sent me in a turtle to play with. I am teaching it two-handed bridge. And as soon as I get really big and strong, I am going to race it to the end of the room and back.
I should love to see Daisy, but it seems that there is some narrow-minded prejudice against bringing dogs into hospitals. And anyway, I wouldn’t trust these bastards of doctors. She would probably leave here with a guinea-pig’s thyroid in her. Helen says she is magnificent—she has been plucked and her girlish waist-line has returned. I thought the dear devoted little beast might eat her heart out in my absence, and you know she shouldn’t have meat. But she is playful as a puppy, and has nine new toys—three balls and six assorted plush animals. She insists on taking the entire collection to bed with her, and, as she sleeps on Helen’s bed, Helen is looking a little haggard these days.
At my tearful request, Helen said to her “Dorothy sends her love.”
“Who?” she said.
I am enclosing a little thing sent by some unknown friend. Oh, well.
And here is a poem of a literary nature. It is called Despair in Chelsea.
Is unable to have a satisfactory evacuation.
His brother, Sacheverel,
Doubts if he ever’ll.
This is beyond doubt the dullest letter since George Moore wrote “Esther Water.” But I will write you decent ones as soon as any news breaks. And after my death, Mr. Conkwright-Shreiner can put them in a book—the big stiff.
But in the meantime, I should love to hear how you are and whatever. And if in your travels, you meet any deserving family that wants to read “Mr. Fortune’s Maggot,” I have six copies.
I promised my mother on her deathbed I would never write a postscript, but I had to save the wow for the finish. I have lost twenty-two pounds.