Dorothy Parker is known as a humorist, and a black-humorist at that; but a few of her short stories are surprisingly touching. I’ve read “The Lovely Leave” (1943) many, many times, and I still enjoy its vignette of a soldier’s wife preparing for her husband’s all-too-brief leave in wartime New York.
When Mimi McVicker learns that her husband Steve will be returning to the city for a mere twenty-four hours, she consoles herself over the time limit of his visit by immersing herself in preparations: buying fresh flowers for the apartment and a new black dress for herself, setting out cocktails for the evening, and—most memorably, for me—replenishing her supplies of fragrance:
The day of the leave was a Saturday. She flushed with gratitude to the army for this coincidence, for after one o’clock, Saturday was her own. She went from her office without stopping for lunch, and bought perfume and toilet water and bath oil. She had a bit of each remaining in bottles on her dressing table and in her bathroom, but it made her feel desired and secure to have rich new stores of them.
Yes, exactly. And what was her signature fragrance? Parker doesn’t tell us, but we can imagine something wonderful and suitable for the occasion.
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Images: cover of The Viking Portable Library: Dorothy Parker (1944), via Amazon; cover of Mademoiselle, August 1944 [cropped], by Ferdinand Fonssagrives, via CondéNast Store.
8 thoughts on “My Back Pages: Dorothy Parker and “The Lovely Leave””
Dorothy Parker is my hero. (Well, alongside Plath, Davis, and Sexton.) I’ve wanted a copy of her ‘Portable Library’ for a while, but I can’t seem to find it here. :) Anyway, Love the snippet, love the post!
Isn’t she great? I bought my own copy of the Portable Library (the more recent version!) for the poetry, but ended up loving the short stories even more.
Yes! I’ve only read a couple of her shorts though. The “Big Blonde” being one of them. I love her wit!
Something makes me think that Mimi’s signature scent would be Parker’s own Coty Chypre, as so much of the author’s sad experiences of being a two-time war bride — first during WWI with Eddie Parker, next during WWII with Alan Campbell — manifest in this wonderful, heartrending short story. Her marriages ended, but her monogamous devotion to Chypre remained.
She certainly wasn’t lucky in love, was she? Then again, that disappointment and cynicism brought us all her wonderful non-love poetry. ;)
I imagine this character wearing something a bit softer, since she seems somewhat unsure of herself… maybe Coty L’Aimant?
L’Aimant would be lovely. :)
That story breaks my heart!