THE DIARY OF H.L. MENCKEN by H.L. Mencken

THE DIARY OF H.L. MENCKEN

KIRKUS REVIEW

Sealed for 25 years since his death in 1956, the diaries of the once popular critic and newspaperman only now have been edited from the original manuscript, which is three times longer than the selections brought together here by Mencken scholar Fecher. Though something of an event for Menckenites, the publication of these diaries reveals little that wasn't already known from the famous curmudgeon's voluminous publications. What is new here isn't very pleasant, and even Fecher--a devout Mencken defender--admits the uglier aspects of these less inhibited jottings. Mencken proves to be both a racist and an anti-Semite, as many have long suspected, though not quite as vehement in his prejudices as Fecher suggests in his informative introduction. Written during the Thirties and Forties, the diaries follow Mencken's decline in popularity--temporarily forestalled by the succes of his American Language series--and reflect none of the excitement of his heyday as a critic and editor. By the Thirties, Mencken no longer championed writers such as Dreiser, but in fact found him an "incurable lout," and Sinclair Lewis an alcoholic "psycopath." Despite cameos by a drunken Faulkner, a charming Fitzgerald, a dull T.S. Eliot, and a manic Ezra Pound, the literary celebs in these pages are mostly second-rate and in decline themselves. Mencken hobnobs with politicians, medical men from Johns Hopkins, and journalists, but spends most of his time recording what he ate and drank, as well as the aftereffects, for he was clearly a hypochondriac, recording every heart palpitation and gas bubble. Much of the diary follows the internal affairs of The Baltimore Sun, with which Mencken remained affiliated long after he ceased writing for it, and the publishing house of Alfred Knopf, on whose board Mencken sat. Throughout the war years, Mencken remains true to his isolationist and libertarian principles, reserving his greatest invective for that "mountebank" FDR. Hardly the American Samuel Johnson (as Fecher avers), Mencken isn't even equal to Edmund Wilson, whose own diaries contribute to literary history in a way Mencken's seldom do.
Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1989
ISBN: 039456877X
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1989




MORE BY H.L. MENCKEN

NonfictionA SECOND MENCKEN CHRESTOMATHY by H.L. Mencken
by H.L. Mencken
NonfictionMY LIFE AS AUTHOR AND EDITOR by H.L. Mencken
by H.L. Mencken
NonfictionMENCKEN AND SARA by Marion Rodgers
by H.L. Mencken