While, this is indeed a book primarily for those really interested in more personal aspects of Mencken's life, it's an enjoyable, if sometimes a little redundant read. Giving a nice view into the more intimate Mencken, it is interesting to sort of watch - almost voyeuristically, as his relationship with Sara develops. Curiously, it's a little difficult to detect exactly where/when that moment occurs by the letters alone. There is obviously a mutual fondness there early on, and I suspect it grew more serious well before it "officially" became more serious, so to speak. But all in all, an interesting book. Of course, there is the one footnote that refers to Varina Howell (Davis) as the wife of Robert E. Lee??? but I suppose such historical errors will happen now and again!
If one is a big Mencken fan and endlessly curious about various aspects of his life, then this is a very readable and enlightening selection of primary sources that reveals a lot about his relationship with his wife. As a Mencken fan, I found it enjoyable and poignant, given the outcome. since no one writes letters anymore, these sorts of books are going to disappear fairly soon, which I find depressing.
H. L. Mencken, celebrated journalist, editor, bon vivant and wit, was 42 in the fall of 1923 when he met 24-year-old Sara Haardt, a writer and English teacher at Goucher College in Mencken's hometown, Baltimore, MD. The marriage seven years later of one of the country's most determined bachelors made front-page news.
Mencken was an inveterate letter writer and encourager of young writers, and it was on that basis that his correspondence with Sara began. Sara, who grew up in Montgomery, AL and was a friend of Zelda Fitzgerald, had worked her way through college when her grandmother died her sophomore year. Her father had died while she was still in high school, and although he had left his family provided for, it was her grandmother who had been paying for Sara's college.
Mencken's letters display a gentle and courtly side with which few were familiar. Hers reflect an intelligent writer, astute businessman, and a brave and caring woman. Her experiences in Hollywood--where Mencken opened many doors for her, but which she navigated expertly-- are an education. Neither intended to marry, and Mencken did not propose until 1929, although the author and others believe he had decided to do so in 1927. The reasons he delayed are not known. Mencken lived with his mother, and one sister, and one brother; his mother died in December, 1925. Marion Bloom came back into his life in 1928 when she divorced and wrote to him, but he found her much changed. Sara was frequently ill, due to tuberculosis, and was gravely ill in 1929 when a tubercular kidney was removed. Her doctor told Mencken she had no more than three years to live. Their letters reveal a growing affection, but her health may have been the deciding factor in Mencken's proposal. They married in 1930 and Sara died on May 31, 1935. Mencken was devastated; as he recorded in his diary, "I was fifty-five years old before I envied anyone, and then it was not so much for what others had as for what I had lost."
Although opposites in many ways, Mencken and Sara had much in common which the author explores in her introduction to the letters. The letters are helpfully annotated, although I have one quibble. On page 453 the author explains that the White House being referred to was "The 'White House of the Confederacy,' home of Varina Howell and her husband, General Robert E. Lee." Varina Howell, of course, was married to the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.
Those who are more familiar with the grouchy curmudgeon that Mencken became in his final years will be pleasantly surprised to read of his loving relationship with a remarkable woman.
Sarah Haardt was a true Southern Bell and, unfortunately, this book gives little insight into what a remarkable women she was in her own right. I am a Mencken fan and, if he was a bigot, then I am also a bigot. I think he had too little patience for Southern culture and those less intelligent than himself, which would have been a large percentage of the population. But I think writing was his salvation being an intellectual castaway amid a virtual sea of stupidity in his time and place. If you like to watch the slow development of a firm foundation for marriage and a relatively happy ending, and I think increasingly lonely, aging curmudgeon gets younger wife and perfect intellectual companion in one cute package certainly qualifies, this might be a good choice.
This book is a collection of the private letters between Henry Louis Mencken and Sara Haardt during their long courtship. In these letters, one will find much that will interest the Mencken fan, but little of much true interest. There is no dirt to be had here, just the reflections of a couple of people who are very fond of each other and very fond of writing. One may gain an insight into the times in which they live and the hardships of Prohibition and of life in the 1920's in general, but a thorough reading of Mencken's other works is far more revealing.