The MJP would like to thank the Johns Hopkins Library for providing us with hard copies of their collection of The Smart Set for digitization. The MJP’s edition of the journal was also made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. We hope, with future resources, to expand our digital edition to cover the full period of Mencken and Nathan’s involvement, from 1908 through 1923.
Smart Set 1910 — 1922Read More Close
Founded in 1900 as a magazine for and about New York’s social elite, The Smart Set evolved into something much more important—an expression of popular modernism that both competed and overlapped with the elite modernism of little magazines such as The Egoist and The Little Review. Like these journals, The Smart Set published some of the best authors of the day (including Joyce and Conrad) and gave the start to others (like F. Scott Fitzgerald); it also affected a cultural snobbery that involved biting satire of American society. At the same time, the journal—subtitled “A Magazine of Cleverness” from the start—never gave up its aim to entertain, to win a large audience, and to make money through advertising; the result was a tension between between critical sophistication and commercial appeal that continued through its thirty-year run. The MJP’s edition covers the years of the magazine’s heyday, from 1913 through 1922, including the short-lived editorship of Willard Huntington Wright and most of the joint-editorship of H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. In 1913, Wright established the Smart Set‘s high literary credentials by championing a host of avant-garde figures (including Pound, Yeats, and Strindberg) and wound up nearly bankrupting the journal. He was eventually replaced in 1914 by Mencken and Nathan—two established writers for the magazine who were given complete editorial control over its literary contents. The two men were creative critics, lively writers, and brilliant editors. Nathan’s criticism of drama and Mencken’s of the culture in general were the heart of the magazine, providing a record of that period in American culture that is priceless.