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Mencken, H.L.

Mencken, full Henry Louis (b. Sept. 12, 1880, Baltimore, Md., U.S.--d. Jan. 29, 1956, Baltimore)

Controversialist, humorous journalist, and pungent critic of American life.

Mencken became a reporter for the Baltimore Morning Herald and later joined the staff of the BaltimoreSun, for which he worked throughout most of his life. From 1914 to 1923 he coedited (with George Jean Nathan) The Smart Set, then the magazine most influential in the growth of American literature. In 1924 he helped found (with Nathan) the American Mercury, and he edited it until 1933.

Mencken was probably the most influential American literary critic in the 1920s, and he often used literary criticism as a point of departure to jab at American weaknesses. His reviews and miscellaneous essays filled six volumes, aptly titled Prejudices (1919-27). He fought against writers whom he regarded as fraudulently successful and worked for the recognition of such outstanding newcomers as Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis. He jeered at American sham, pretension, provincialism, and prudery, and he ridiculed organized religion, business, and the middle class (which he called the "booboisie").

In 1919 Mencken published The American Language, an attempt to bring together examples of American expressions and idioms. The book grew with each reissue through the years, and in 1945 and 1948 Mencken published substantial supplements. By the time of his death, he was perhaps the leading authority on the language of his country.

Mencken's autobiographical trilogy, Happy Days (1940), Newspaper Days (1941), and Heathen Days (1943), is devoted to his experiences in journalism. A further volume, My Life as Author and Editor, was published in 1993.

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Publication:Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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