Thursday, August 07, 2008

"I am religious!!!" or, Letters Week, Part IV

For today's installment of Letters Week, I've got two bits of more or less straight comedy. The first comes from Dorothy Parker, whose wit shines through everything she wrote, her letters being no exception. From The Portable Dorothy Parker, here's the opening of a letter to her sister, Helen Rothschild Grimwood, from sometime in 1939--the sensitive among you should be warned that it involves domestic animals coming to harm, though they survive it intact:
Dear Mrs. G., some day I will write you a letter containing good news, but so far the day hasn't dawned. Now last night, for example, Alan ran over Poupee, the poodle. . . . Her damages were a badly cut hind paw and a nasty case of shock (which I may say is nothing to the one Alan sustained) and, I hope, a resolve not to run barking out at cars any more. She is now in the hospital at Doylestown, where she has joined Jack, the Dalmation, who has an infection of his blood stream that made him come out in great horrible sores--and he did so enjoy being beautiful! He wouldn't be badly off if he had been taken to the doctor's in time, but Miss Gordon didn't get around to it while we were away. In fact, all the time we were away Miss Gordon stayed really magnificently drunk and neglected everything except the truck, which she smashed to pieces. Miss Gordon is with us no more, and I can't tell you the relief that is. It's funny how you think you can't get along without somebody and then when they finally do go, you realize they have been a burden and an irritant for years.

Six is fine. I don't need to mention that. When the poodle was run over and lay writhing in blood, he ran out and attacked her savagely. Sealyhams are glorious.
And here's an author less well-known for his humor, Gustave Flaubert, writing about his ambitions to his friend, writer Ernest Feydeau in August 21, 1859
after prolonged meditations, I want to invent a lovely autobiography, so as to ensure a good name for myself:
1 From my earliest years I have uttered all the famous saying in history: we shall fight in the dark--you are in my light--once more into the breach--a horse, a horse etc.

2 I was such a lovely young thing that all my nursemaids masturbated me until they dislocated their wrists . . . and the duchesse de Berry stopped her carriage so as to give me a kiss (historical fact).

3 I gave every sign of prodigious intelligence. Before the age of ten, I knew various oriental languages and I was reading Laplace's Celestial Mechanics.

4 I have saved 48 people from death by fire.

5 For a bet, one day I ate 15 sirloins of beef, and I can still easily manage to drink 72 big barrels of whisky.

6 I have killed 20 carabineers in the course of dueling. One day we were but three and they were ten thousand. We gave them a bloody good thrashing!

7 I have satiated the entire harem of hte Grand Turk. All the women, when they saw me, used to say: "How handsome he is! Taieb! Zeb Ketir!"

8 I steal into the peasant hovel and the working-class slum to bring relief to their unseen wretchedness. Here I see an old man, there I see a young girl, and so on (complete the sentence) and I bestow gold in great handfuls.

9 I have an income of a hundred thousand pounds. I give parties.

10 Publishers fight to get my manuscripts; I am pperpetually asailed by invitations from all the royal courts of Northern Europe.

11 I know all the "secrets of state".

12 (and lastly) I am religious!!! I insist that all my servants take communion.
This does make me wonder: could I squeeze the most outsized iteration of my ambitions into twelve points?


  1. Ah, it's been too long since I cracked open The Portable Dorothy Parker; and she is _so_ right about the Miss Gordons of life.

  2. Makes you wonder how much we're losing in our own chronicle of the modern day now that so many of us choose e-mails over old-fashioned letters. I can't imagine someday reading "The Collected E-mails of Dave Eggers." But hey, you never know.

  3. Any blog that combines Dorothy Parker and Gustave Flaubert in one post wins the day as far as I'm concerned. Great stuff--I love that Flaubert letter (and the emphasis on 'I give parties.'). I must get that book; and the Fitzgerald letters are somewhere in the air headed for me as we speak. Hurrah!