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Friday, July 30, 2010

How tripping over a box of love letters turned Marion Elizabeth Rodgers into H. L. Mencken’s biographer

In September, The Library of America is publishing in two volumes H. L. Mencken: Prejudices: The Complete Series, the six books of pungent prose Mencken published between 1919 and 1927 under the rubric Prejudices. The LOA edition is edited by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, author of the acclaimed biography, Mencken: The American Iconoclast, The Life and Times of the Bad Boy of Baltimore, which Charles Fecher, editor of The Diary of H. L. Mencken, hailed as “a definitive biography.”

In an exclusive interview (PDF) for today's Library of America e-Newsletter, Rodgers talks about the dazzling range of subjects found in Prejudices, the complex and mercurial writer behind them, and the accident that brought her and Mencken together:
My real introduction to Mencken was shortly before my graduation from Goucher College, in 1981, while I was researching the papers of Southern writer and alumna Sara Haardt, whom Mencken had married, thereby shattering his reputation as “America’s Foremost Bachelor.” I was putting away one of her scrapbooks in the vault of the library when I literally tripped over a box of love letters between her and Mencken. Taped to the top of the collection was a stern command, written by Mencken, that it was not to be opened until that very year. To say that my life changed at that moment would be an understatement. Suddenly, a door was swung open into Mencken’s life through the tender route of romantic correspondence. In those days my dream was to go to graduate school and write (yet another!) dull thesis on T. S. Eliot. Instead, I focused my degree on the Mencken/Haardt collection, promptly received a book contract, and became hooked. During the two decades since 1981, Mencken has pulled me through many adventures, both professional and personal, that included my editing several volumes of his work and culminated in my biography.
Haardt is still largely remembered for her relationship with Mencken (who was eighteen years her senior), but she was an author and critic in her own right, writing over fifty stories during her short life. After her marriage to Mencken in 1930, Haardt published her only novel, The Making of a Lady (1931); her story "Absolutely Perfect" was nominated for the O. Henry Prize in 1933. She died of meningitis in 1935, and the following year Mencken published a selection of her stories as Southern Album.

Related LOA works: H. L. Mencken: Prejudices: The Complete Series; American Food Writing: An Anthology With Classic Recipes (includes Mencken on hot dogs and the “Home of the Crab”)


  1. What a fascinating story of fate!

  2. I'll definitely look out for that one. I loved Rodgers' biography of him.


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