On this day…23 March

On 23 March 1915 Joyce wrote to thank HL Mencken for publishing two stories.

Joyce had just heard that the American magazine, the Smart Set, edited by HL Mencken, had agreed to publish two of the stories from Dubliners. The stories – ‘The Boarding House’ and ‘A Little Cloud’ – appeared in the May 1915 issue and were the first publication of work by Joyce in America.

Joyce wrote to Mencken using a Venice address as post from America and Britain to Trieste was problematic in wartime. In his letter, Joyce thanked Mencken for publishing his stories and asked if a copy of the magazine containing the stories could be sent to him. He also told Mencken that A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was appearing serially in the Egoist and asked if the Smart Set might be interested in it.

Mencken replied in April to say he was sending copies of the Smart Set. He told Joyce that he already had information about A Portrait from Ezra Pound but that it was too long for the Smart Set. He asked that Joyce keep the Smart Set in mind if he had anything he wanted published, and told him that he and George Nathan wanted to make it into the best American magazine, publishing material that other editors would not publish.

Henry Louis Mencken was born in 1880 and started work as a journalist with the Baltimore Morning Herald in 1899. Later, he wrote for the Baltimore Sun and became a renowned if opinionated essayist whose prose style won many admirers.

The Smart Set – subtitled The Magazine of Cleverness – was founded in 1900 as a society magazine. Mencken started out writing book reviews for it, but later became editor and worked closely with renowned theatre critic George Nathan (1882-1957). Under Mencken’s editorship, the magazine published works by F Scott Fitzgerald, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Edna St Vincent Millay, and many others. Mencken and Nathan left the Smart Set in 1923 and founded the American Mercury together in 1924.

Joyce had first heard about the Smart Set from Ezra Pound in the first letter Pound sent to Joyce soliciting material for publication in December 1913, when Pound told Joyce that the Smart Set wanted top quality stories. By January 1914 Joyce was able to tell Grant Richards that he was planning to publish stories in an American magazine. Ben Huebsch, who wanted to publish Dubliners in America, had also recommended Joyce’s stories to HL Mencken and it was through Huebsch that Mencken agreed royalties with Grant Richards, Joyce’s London publisher.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I, edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957; vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

Joyce’s stories appeared in the Smart Set, vol. XLVI, no. 1, May 1915, pp. 93-97 & pp. 129-136.

View a facsimile of ‘The Boarding House’ in the Smart Set here.

View a facsimile of ‘A Little Cloud’ in the Smart Set here.