This is the first biography since his death of the man Edmund Wilson has called the greatest practicing literary journalist since Poe. It is also the first fully documented life to be issued. Mr. Bode has based his book on a host of Mencken letters, many unpublished; on family papers; on a variety of Mencken materials in print and out; and on many taped interviews with remaining friends of Mencken as well as with some of his old enemies. Two other things about the book are important firsts. The book analyzes Mencken s writing as it related to his life. And the book indicates the relation of Mencken to his timeMr Bode s "Mencken "takes us from the almost pastoral Baltimore of the 1880 s when Mencken was a boy; through World War I when Mencken was termed a traitor; into the Roaring Twenties when he was the decade s leading intellectual, magazine editor, and newspaper man; into the Depression when his influence sank to nearly nothing; then into the 1940 s when he issued his mellow reminiscences; and finally to his last years in Baltimore.Among the chapters are: Daily and Sunday, Dreiser and the Fruits of Dissidence, The "Mercury: "Mencken s Mind and Art, Mainstay of the "Sun, " " " Mencken, Darwin, and God, Mencken in Love, The Circus of Dr. R., and Friends and Familiars. "
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What Reviewers Are Saying
Magnificent biography.... A Menckenian accomplishment. Robert Kirsch, "Los Angeles"" Times Calendar""
With the exception of Sara Mayfield's sacheted reminiscence (The Constant Circle - 1968) there has been no major work on Mencken in English and this is a thoroughgoing, fairminded, evaluative and respectably researched saga of the Sage of Baltimore. True, many great wits are best preserved in their own words (cf. shaw, with whom Mencken shared many things in common - he was also a critic of ideas). But Professor Bode is a good if not exciting writer and he has filled in many of the truer facts changed or expurgated in Mencken's own autobiographical works. A certain privacy will never be invaded: Mencken was discreet during the many years before he married Sara Haardt and only a few others figure publicly in the records (Marian Bloom, Heaven help him, a Christian Scientist; actress Aileen Pringle; Anita Loos). From a background of firm maternal and material comfort, Mencken lived 70 years of his life in the Baltimore house on Hollins Street. He is seen through his years on the Herald and the Sun, Smart Set and then the American Mercury, tilting seriously at everything - Babbitts and Boobs and Puritans, commercialistm and bureaucracy and religion - sponsoring naturalistic fiction and the social sciences, and discovering many of the writers of his times. The short-lived marriage (given three years to live, she lasted five) to Sara Haardt left him more lonely than he had ever been and the last years as he faded in celebrity and failed in health are, inevitably, sad ones. A figure of enormous energy and enterprise, strong and open minded, convivial, urbane and witty, Mencken is all of that here in a highly representative work. (Kirkus Reviews)