The Smart Set: George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken

The Smart Set: George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken

by Thomas Quinn Curtiss
     
 
(Applause Books). Thomas Quinn Curtiss has reunited George Jean Nathan with his cohort, H.L. Mencken together with the rest of their set: Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Edmund Wilson, Sean O'Casey, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alfred Knopf, Jack London and Somerset Maugham. The magnificent abandon of their enterprise and the hard drinking Bohemian wisdom of their

Overview

(Applause Books). Thomas Quinn Curtiss has reunited George Jean Nathan with his cohort, H.L. Mencken together with the rest of their set: Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Edmund Wilson, Sean O'Casey, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alfred Knopf, Jack London and Somerset Maugham. The magnificent abandon of their enterprise and the hard drinking Bohemian wisdom of their writing propelled them and fueled generations of readers with their wit and philosophy. This is a biography of an era of men whose stories could only be written by an eyewitness.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Curtiss's quasi-biographical study is at its best when he focuses on the friendship and collaboration of Nathan and Mencken when they were co-editors (and occasionally ghostwriters) of the jazz era literary magazine The Smart Set. If Nathan and Mencken had different styles and temperamentsNathan was a Harvard-educated dandy, Mencken a self-taught newspapermanthey were united by an urgent desire to elevate America's critical standards and similar tastes for realistic, rather than sentimental, art. Curtiss offers a lively portrait of these two iconoclasts, filled with details ranging from their penchant for practical jokes to the forging of a seamless working relationship that spanned a decade. Foremost among their efforts was the introduction of innovative American and European artists, despite censors and the ongoing resistance of what Curtiss calls the "Puritan camp" of critics ruled over by "[t]hat dreary octogenarian, William Winter." Given that Applause is a theater book publisher, perhaps it is predictable that there would be less about the discoveries of O'Neill, Fitzgerald and Joyce, or about Nathan and Mencken's own writings (no more than two of Mencken's reviews are directly discussed), than there is about the critics, playwrights, producers, actors and managers of the New York theater world from 1900 to 1930. Moreover, it is difficult to overlook the somewhat awkward structure of this work, treating as it does two who prized above all else the craft of writing. (Apr.) FYI: Applause will publish The World of George Jean Nathan: Selected Essays and Reviews, edited by Charles Angoff, to coincide with The Smart Set. ($24.95 paper 520p ISBN 1-55783-313-3)
Library Journal
Curtiss, a celebrated critic for the International Herald Tribune, provides a glimpse into the powerhouse team of Nathan and Mencken and their work during the richest era of American arts and creativity. The Smart Set, a monthly journal inaugurated in 1900, came to prominence under the dual editorship of Nathan and Mencken from 1914 to 1923. It was soon renowned as the most sophisticated, humorous, and irreverent monthly, featuring the work of pioneering new authors such as O. Henry, Damon Runyan, Jack London, Theodore Drieser, Louis Untermyer, Hugh Walpole, Eugene O'Neill, and James Joyce. But it was anchored by Nathan's drama criticism and Mencken's book commentaries. The fertile combination of the two editors served to blend American grit with Continental wit and largely molded the character of American theater, literature, and thought for the period and beyond. This is a useful history and critique of the prevailing traditions of literary theory that reflected the unique intellect and sensibilities of the early decades of this century. Academic students and scholars will welcome this analysis and reconsideration of the avant-garde tradition.Richard K. Burns, Hatboro, Pa.
Kirkus Reviews
A witty and engaging history of one of American modernism's great monuments. Back in the days when magazines were important, few were devoured more avidly by the cognoscenti than the Smart Set during the tenure of coeditors H.L. Mencken and noted drama critic George Jean Nathan, who took over in 1914. Proclaiming that "one civilized reader was worth a thousand boneheads," Mencken and Nathan engaged in a full-scale assault on American nativism, naivet‚, and knee-jerk puritanism. Their weapons were scorn, sarcasm, and outright mockery as well as a fierce dedication to high culture and the avant-garde. F. Scott Fitzgerald was an early discovery, as was Eugene O'Neill. James Joyce even made his American debut in the magazine. The two editors were complementary in almost everything, even their eccentricities. Believing that culture was far above futile political struggles, they kept all mention of WW I out of the magazine. As Nathan wrote: "If all the Armenians were to be killed tomorrow and if half of Russia were to starve to death the day after, it would not matter to me in the least. Life, as I see it, is for the fortunate few." This kind of militant, irreverent aestheticism appalled the "booboisie" but wowed the cosmopolitans. Finally, after ten successful years, Mencken and Nathan began to feel that the magazine was running out of steam. To propound their ideas properly, they needed a completely new forumþso with the backing of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, they started the American Mercury. Stripped of its stars, the Smart Set managed to struggle on a few more years before finally going under during the Depression. Curtiss (Von Stroheim, 1971) is every bit as smart andstylish as his subject. His excellent biographical portrait of the so often overshadowed Nathan is particularly notable. A graceful, richly detailed delight. (photos, not seen)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781557833129
Publisher:
Hal Leonard Corporation
Publication date:
02/01/2000
Pages:
270
Product dimensions:
6.29(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.96(d)

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