MENCKEN AND SARA by Marion Rodgers


A Life In Letters
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As edited and richly introduced by Mencken scholar Rodgers, these are the charming, often rambunctious letters between Mencken and star-crossed Sara Haardt, his admirer and later his wife. In wavering health, Sara was a 24-year-old Alabama short-story writer, budding novelist and poet in 1923 when she first wrote for advice from Mencken. He was 42, author of The American Language and coeditor with George Jean Nathan of The Smart Set, and literary dictator of the United States. A devoted beer-drinker and tippler despite Prohibition, Mencken was also the nation's most renowned flower of bachelorhood, witty indeed about husband hunters and the demerits of marriage, and the most unlikely man to fall for a young Southern charmer. But, as the reader quickly sees, Sara had everything: beauty, wit, open-minded agnosticism, a brilliant pen and--as doctors told him when he married her in 1930--only three years to live. She lived five. The happily surprised reader finds "The Bad Boy from Baltimore" on his absolutely best behavior in every letter and growing ever more lovable as the correspondence moves forward year by year (Sara died in 1935). They seem to have been bonded by his editorial remarks on her work, his guidance of her career, restaurants, and considerable bourbon, rum and beer. Their sex life appears gallantly platonic until marriage, despite many unchaperoned meetings in the country and elsewhere. Mencken would give her notes for revising her novels and stories, tips on the best ways to approach editors for various magazines. He was also helpful in getting her a job in Hollywood, where she was a scriptwriter at Paramount. Meanwhile, Mencken went off to cover political conventions and wrote her cracklingly funny letters. The marriage seems to have been sheer delight, aside from the tubercular writing on the wall and her hospitalizations. Moving and lively, an epistolary Southern beauty-and-the-beast, with a very sad ending.
Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1986
ISBN: 0385419805
Page count: 580pp
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1986


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