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Historical Context in Parties: A Hymn of Hate

Writing for the magazine Vanity Fair, Dorothy Parker often penned critiques of society during the early 20th century. This time period was known for themed parties that lasted all day. Written in 1917, the poem serves as an anticipation to the “Roarin’ 20s.” She was also a prominent member of an exclusive group of Manhattan critics known as the “Algonquin Round Table.”

Historical Context Examples in Parties: A Hymn of Hate:

Parties: A Hymn of Hate

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"Elwell..."   (Parties: A Hymn of Hate)

Joseph Bowne Elwell was a famous American bridge player who invented the Auction Bridge version of the game. In 1920, Elwell was the subject of a famous, unsolved murder case. He was shot in the head inside his locked house and the bullet was laid neatly on the table beside his body. The murder spawned multiple detective novels and speculation about how the murder was committed and why. Elwell’s prominence in card-playing circles led many to believe that anger or debt over the game led to his murder.

"getting personal..."   (Parties: A Hymn of Hate)

The phrase “getting personal” is an example of the 1920s’ dialect that reflects the time period in which this poem was written. The phrase means to become personally offended, which is very similar to the modern idiom “to take it personally.” With this phrase, the speaker suggests that her partner is taking their loss in this card game as a personal offense.

"arts-and-crafts hearth-brush..."   (Parties: A Hymn of Hate)

The “arts-and-crafts hearth-brush” refers to a fireplace brush designed in the style of the arts and crafts movement. This style—used in architecture, textiles, graphics and book-printing—was popularized in England at the turn of the 20th century and was in fashion in Parker’s time.

"Volstead..."   (Parties: A Hymn of Hate)

Volstead refers to Andrew John Volstead, a representative of the Republican Party from 1903–1923. His name is most commonly used in reference to the prohibition law of 1919, frequently dubbed the Volstead Act, which made it illegal to buy or consume alcohol in the United States. The use of this reference in the description of the punch suggests that this was a non-alcoholic drink. Along with the description of “clean home games,” the speaker displays an obvious distaste for this idea of “wholesome” fun.

"Novelty Affair,..."   (Parties: A Hymn of Hate)

A “Novelty Affair” is a themed party, to which guests would often wear fancy dress and partake in themed games. Parker capitalizes the type of party here to demonstrate the official, calculated nature of such a party. Far from being spontaneous, this type of party would require stringent planning by the host. As an integral member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of early 20th-century Manhattan critics that prided themselves on wordplay and satire, Parker and her peers would have delighted in making fun of clichéd, unoriginal parties such as these.

"They bring out the worst in me. ..."   (Parties: A Hymn of Hate)

During her time as a writer for Vanity Fair magazine, Parker wrote a recurring series of humorous poems entitled “The Hates.” These poems were small pieces of social satire designed to poke fun at various aspects of modern society. As was typical of this series, the poem begins with an italicized phrase wherein Parker declares the subject of her hate. In this poem, Parker condemns four different types of parties, utilizing the italicized form to delineate the poem into clear sections. Beginning the poem in this way introduces a strong, scathing tone from the outset.

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