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Just like a man!
come_to_think
Reading:  In Defense of Marion: The Love of Marion Bloom & H. L. Mencken, ed. by Edward A. Martin (Univ. of Georgia Press, 1996)

A couple of months ago I dined at Mary Chung's in Cambridge with a lady I admire.  A subset of the MIT chantey singers usually goes there after the monthly sing; that time, by chance, it was down to the two of us, so I heard more & talked more than usual.  I happened to mention H. L. Mencken, as I often do, and she said she had heard that he had had a mistress for many years before marrying someone else, and had treated her badly.  She mentioned the woman's name, but I forgot it instantly, as I do names.

However, I was startled.  I thought I knew Mencken pretty well, and he had never mentioned any such thing in what I had read of him, including the diary he began in 1931, shortly after his marriage.  So I looked it up, and sure enough, he had been on & off with one Marion Bloom from 1914 to 1930, and there is a whole book about the affair --- out of print, like many good things, but I had Harvard retrieve it from the depository for me, which it did promptly this time, and what is more, the copy was in excellent condition, I having once again been the first to check it out.  They were often separated for long periods and had a voluminous correspondence, of which he destroyed her letters but she kept his.  Using them & some other surviving correspondence, Professor Martin (who has written quite a bit about Mencken) reconstructed the relationship in some detail, with explanatory notes.  He also had the happy idea (to which the title alludes) of interspersing the text with apposite quotations from Mencken's feminist tract In Defense of Women, which he was writing during the early part of the relationship.  That made me think of another contemporaneous dictum of his, not in that book but in his magazine The Smart Set for May 1919:


The most disgusting cad in the world is the man who, on grounds of decorum and morality, avoids the game of love.  He is one who puts his own ease and security above the most laudable of philanthropies.  Women have a hard time of it in this world.  They are oppressed by man-made laws, man-made social customs, masculine egoism, the delusion of masculine superiority.  Their one comfort is the assurance that, even though it may be impossible to prevail against man, it is always possible to enslave and torture a man.  This feeling is fostered when one makes love to them.  One need not be a great beau, a seductive catch, to do it effectively.  Any man is better than none.  To shrink from giving so much happiness at such small expense, to evade the business on the ground that it has hazards --- this is the act of a puling and tacky fellow.

Compare Bloom, in a draft letter to him, March 1919:

...You utterly lack that bravado and deviltry in speaking of marriage, so dear to a woman.  You lack that, what the French call, "Je ne sais quoi."  You firmly believe that matrimony would interfere with your career, yet you can't stop playing with its charming provocations.  You want to be married and you want to be single.  You are as capricious as a young gal.  For me to enter a thing of which I myself am uncertain, as who is not in such a venture, I ast ye? is too much like sticking the last leg under a street car.  I think you want to eat your cake and have it too.  I think you are not courageous, perhaps I mean sporting....

If she had waited a couple of months, she might have hoist him with his own petard.

The Web informs me that if I had paid attention, I would have found out about all this a good deal earlier.  Russell Baker mentioned Martin's book in an article in The New York Review of Books in 2003, which I must have read with interest, tho I took no notice of it in my journal.

So did he mistreat her?  Well, it is hard to judge love affairs, but the following seems fair:  They were both very much in love, and both flirted with the idea of marriage (she more seriously than he), but both, in their lucid moments, realized it would not work.  Mencken's motives in backing off seem to have included a certain amount of social snobbery (dare I take this working-class woman home to mother?), but I think the main one was indeed the one he stressed most:  They were intellectually incompatible.  She was a Christian Scientist, and he was a vociferous skeptic in religious matters.  As he said in a moving diary entry ten years after his wife died, "Marriage is nine-tenths talk", and the talk in a marriage with Marion would have had to be pretty edgy.  In the end, she sent him a message by marrying someone else (briefly), and he soon did likewise (very compatibly).

He was a famous man & thus a seductive catch himself, and we find out from Martin that in the meantime he allowed at least three other women to go on hoping he would marry them, which IMO is more unambiguously disgraceful.

At a subsequent chantey sing I reported my researches to the person who had inspired them, and she once again mentioned the name of the woman she had recalled, and I once again forgot it right away; but it was not "Marion Bloom", nor any other name in the index of Martin's book, which I had with me at the time.  We concluded that she must have been thinking of some other mean mistreating man than Mencken.  If you've seen one,....