Mencken, lovers & haters.

While in the midst of exploring and collecting items for my digital exhibition, I have come up with the perfect title for it: Reactions to Mencken: A glimpse of varied responses during his time. My exhibition is going to center on the different types of responses that individuals and groups had to Mencken and his writing. Mencken’s audacious and bold personality gained him the readership of many, but also caused him to be the target of many people’s disgust and disdain. His tendency to criticize nearly every group of people, including his own colleagues, was very controversial and made him in a hypocrite in the eyes of many. His vitriolic condemnation of different groups of people can be seen vividly in Prejudices.

A variety of factors caused me to become interested in looking at responses people had to Mencken’s work. Reading the Chrestomathy and The Smart Set revealed that his writing was very powerful, satirical, and oftentimes insulting. During my research I read “The Sahara of the Bozart,” in which Mencken brutally strips the South of all cultural and artistic value. This essay made me curious about how those living in the South felt about Mencken’s overly harsh and inflammatory words. Reading newspaper articles about Mencken’s racist and anti-Semitic tendencies further led me to be curious about how colleagues and strangers viewed him. I noticed that many of the materials we examined in class and many of the items I looked at in Special Collections all portrayed Mencken in a very positive light. Then I took a closer look at the Dreiser-Mencken Letters and discovered that not everyone was a Mencken lover. Many of his relationships were plagued by tension and disagreement.

One of the objects that I will include in my digital exhibition is the Dreiser- Mencken Letters. The Dreiser-Mencken Letters illuminate the complex relationship that Theodore Dreiser and H.L. Mencken shared. Through their correspondences, Dreiser’s feelings about Mencken and his writing are revealed. The letters are valuable to my exhibition because they allow readers to see how Mencken was viewed by one of his closest friends and colleagues. They certainly provide Dreiser’s perspective on Mencken through the way he composes his letters, the particularities he mentions about Mencken’s character, and the opinions he provides on his writing.

Mencken 1
Cover. Thomas P. Riggio, Dreiser-Mencken Letters. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Devika Agrawal.

Another object that I am going to include in my digital exhibition is a page from Menckeniana: A Schimpflexikon. Menckeniana is a collection of direct responses taken from individuals, newspapers, and other sources about Mencken and his work.  The page I have selected has a quote from The Asheville Citizen about Mencken’s habit of critiquing everyone. The quote is a great reflection of how Mencken was viewed through the eyes of a newspaper, home to North Carolina. Furthermore, it reveals that many people attributed Mencken’s habits to different aspects of his personality. He was hated and insulted by as many people as he was applauded by.

Page. Menckeniana. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Devika Agrawal.




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