Henry Louis (“H.L.”) Mencken (1880-1956) looms as the lion of literary criticism. In other words, writers and readers either revered him or were reviled by him. He was a journalist and editor who expressed strong opinions about life and culture in the United States, and carried powerful influence over the success of budding writers and publishers in the 1920s and 1930s.
Mencken remains an important figure in Baltimore history, with the Baltimore Sun naming a font after him.
He was particularly harsh toward the post-Civil War South. Some say that Southern writers owe him gratitude because his published opinions about the South motivated them to become better writers on behalf of their homeland.
Ironically, the long-time bachelor (see his In Defense of Women at www.gutenberg.org) married a Southern writer when he was 50. (Prior to their marriage, his lifestyle influenced Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a novel that sold out the day it was released in 1925 before becoming Marilyn Monroe’s best-known feature film.)
The H.L. Mencken House at 1524 Hollins Street used to be open to the public. A non-profit group is working on raising funds to re-open it. Meanwhile, tourists are welcome to visit the H.L. Mencken Room of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which has an enormous collection of his work.
Connection to Theodore Dreiser
1925 became a banner year in Mencken’s world of publishing. Theodore Dreiser is an example of a major author of that era whose career was helped by Mencken, though they did not always agree. Dreiser’s now classic 1925 novel, An American Tragedy, became the basis for a 1931 feature film of the same title and the 1951 feature film, A Place in the Sun, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Neither film included much of the material in the first portion of the novel that Mencken thought was unnecessary but included anyway. A comparison between the novel and the two films is here: Library of America.
To watch a fun video filmed at the Enoch Free library, click here: Penguin Library.
This is the second stop on our Maryland Author Adventures Trail!