She did not write about war and this did not please the literati, however, as Gore Vidal said: "I know of no one else who has got so well the essence of that first war-year before we all went away to the best years of no one's life"
Dawn Powell writes in "A Time To Be Born":
"This was a time when the true signs of war were the lavish plumage of the women; Fifth Avenue dress shops and the finer restaurants were filled with these vanguards of war. Look at the jewels, the rare pelts, the gaudy birds on elaborate hair-dress and know that war was here; already the women had inherited the earth. The ominous smell of gunpowder was matched by a rising cloud of Schiaparelli's Shocking.
The women were once more armed, and their happy voices sang of destruction to come...This was a time when the artists, the intellectuals, sat in cafes and in country homes and accused each other over their brandies or their California vintages of traitorous tendencies. This was a time for them to band together in mutual antagonism, a time to bury the professional hatchet, if possible in each other....
On fifth Avenue and Fifty-fifth street hundreds waited for a man on a hotel window ledge to jump; hundreds waited with craning necks and thirsty faces as if this single persons final gesture would solve the riddle of the world. Civilization stood on a ledge, and in the tension of waiting it was relief to have one little man jump."
Re-visited House of Mirth. It was worth it. Wharton was my mother's favorite author and I'm reminded exactly why; her writing style was often referred to as dramatic irony. Wharton not only understood her world, she owned it.
Both she and Dawn Powell had perfect pitch, respective of their geographical addresses in New York.
Dawn Powell, doyenne of Greenwich village mixed with bohemian, writers, poets, ad men, salesmen and wrote about working woman; sans white glove and romance.
Wharton's milieu was all about social status and manners and yet both writers executed surgical precision when relaying their character's motives and habits to the reader.
Powell preferred those on the make and how they all drank, highballs from morning til night. Wharton captured the upper class; their acute sense of protocol and gilded cages. Dawn Powell's a lot more fun to read.
Neither writer rebelled against change but rather embraced it, forgave it, and their profound sense of empathy overrode everything. It's refreshing to feel such sensations...
Time to repost a previous post; why, because, I'm re-visiting Dawn Powell's oeuvre, and I recently found it reposted in Gore Vidal Pages. Immensely pleased.
GV's essays are brilliant mini intellectual breakdowns, particularly fine when focusing on a fellow writer and their collected work. Vidal efficiently digests it whole, like a snake, and regurgitates it back in finer form, far more elegant in its reincarnation. In this, he's very much alone.
One of my favorite essays is the one devoted to Dawn Powell, arguably America's premier writer of satire; forever. No wonder she'll never cease being a cult and become a religion. We're not fond of the truth, we're not much for mirrors, it's a rather cruel culture, solidarity is not necessarily our strength.
Dawn was all about strength. Of mind, of spirit, a genius. Hemingway knew it, Diane Trilling knew it, everyone who was anyone in the literary world knew it, but refused to give her fame because she refused to live by their rules. She could not write about women in a romantic way, nor the war. And the rare moment she did write of war, it was without romance.
Colette: "Don't. Don't wake Mom up."
Godot: "But it's after 8, time to get up and take us out."
Colette: "Don't Godot, today is a dark, dark day."
Godot: "I can't wait, my name's Godot..."
Colette: " You must. Gore Vidal is gone."
Godot: "Uh oh, she's opened her eyes and I'm not jumping to the edge of the bed, she knows something's up, she's eyeing us suspiciously and picking up her iPad..."
Colette: "There's an email from Rome, I read it, from Roberto, I can't watch Mom's face when she reads that email."
Godot: "But Dad's in Kazakhstan, he doesn't call until the end of his day on FaceTime so we can all see one another and have a chat. "
Colette: "No, Godot. Not Dad, the other Roberto. Remember that really good looking guy who was our neighbor in Rome? You know, the actor writer friend, the one Mom adores, he speaks all those languages and lived upstairs, he'd stick his head out of a little tiny window, Mom would stand below and look up from that funky terrace and they'd have a chat about Gore Vidal, politics, Italy, America, then and now, that kinda stuff...oh no, I have to turn around; I can't look, she's reading it now."
Godot: "Oh that guy, the one that suggested using a water pistol on me to make me less vocal. Knew Mom would not even consider such an idea...
What did the email say?"
Colette: "He wrote, 'Thinking of you today, Gore Vidal is gone. baci.' "
Godot: "Oh. To the point; he gets it."
Colette: "What's she doing?"
"Don't worry Godot, she'll be right back, she's gone to the library to get Dawn Powell's diaries."
Godot: "You mean the quote Dawn wrote back in 1954."
Colette: "Yes, that one, when GV was but a boy, making a name on the literary scene, not that the literary scene would bother with our two finest geniuses, they only bother with the ones that play the game. Dawn Powell and GV did not play any games. They were truth tellers."
Colette and Godot listened as Mom read the quote out loud:
"Read Gore Vidal's 'Messiah'. More impressed by the writer than the book, which was engaging enough, but the trouble with being a clear, sharply cut, extraordinary individual with a rich articulate gift is that no characters can equal the author himself, whose muscular skill directs most complicated interplay of plots, guide contrapuntal themes with suave, veiled power and a doom-like rhythm that compels and lulls. A genuine novelist - power at the wheel, a rich, regal original mind with unlimited treasures and the serene generosity of one who knows he will come into more and more. Something of Disraeli - a high, patrician, Solomon-like judgment and philosophic power, with wit, poetry and music. Not to be fit in any fashion, but will outlive them all, like the great ones."
Colette: "Isn't it lovely to think people used to write like that, perceive like that, read deeply. Such insight and always right our girl Dawn Powell."
Mom: "Dawn Powell was right about everything, that's why they cast her aside and that's why precisely why Gore Vidal brought her back.
Colette: "It was fun going to down to Ravello and pretending we were stalking him, but why didn't you ever just go up and knock on his door, Mom, that would have been your style."
Mom: "I don't know, I only really tried to find his house after he'd moved back to America. You don't want to meet or see your one true idol, best to live in the mind and heart, Colette, that's where it lives and breathes best...although sometimes I do wish..."
Godot: "It's alright Mom, after you take us out, I'll insist those lilies bloom super fast so you can lay out his books and mourn him properly today."
Colette: "Mom, some of the books are gone, arent they?"
Mom: "I know, loaned them out, last week I loaned the "Essential Gore Vidal" to a guy who still believes in the left-right paradigm, bit of a waste but he'll bring it back.
GV may have played the left-right paradigm for a while but not really and anyway, after moving to Italy I suppose he thought it nothing more than wilfull ignorance masquerading as native wit.
He was America's biographer, prescient for over 7 decades, I did meet a few that met him...and to think some people thought him a snob, ironic; he just loved his country so much. That's why he wrote about it.
Feels like that place, that state of mind has evolved into something else entirely."
Godot looked at Colette and silently asked, "Are we ever going back?"
Colette watched Mom, in her reverie, reviewing the books, one by one and replied, "I don't think so..."
Bartender: What are you having?
Parker: Not much fun.
Dorothy Parker = One liners. Capturing the mood quick, long before twitter was in vogue. A trend setter, yet towards a bitter end she said, with just enough self-loathing, "I'm just a Jewish girl trying to be cute."
Hey, you might say, she was the 'toast of the town!' Sure, looks swell from the outside, but internally, women that suffer the prettier sister like Parker; suffer forever.
Parker wasn't pretty, especially when young, instead, she was very smart and became terrifically witty. Odds are she'd have traded it all just to be really pretty, or 'happy, at any age.
Hence, she went after men, hungrily, desperately, "don't you know I'm a whore?" she once yelled at her best friend Robert Benchley.
Honest and competent enough to document her pain through her craft. Which is precisely why she touched us, moved us, deeply, made us laugh out loud, made us want more. But that would seem greedy.
Even Gore Vidal marveled ather level of humour, so evolved, so tender but brutally honest. His remarkable essay forced her novel back into print through sheer literary will; "for decades Dawn Powell was always just on the verge of ceasing to be a cult and becoming a major religion."