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Volume 30, Number 2 (2005)

The Jews on Mencken's Block and Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Englishman's Boy

July 20, 2010


Vanderhaeghe's The Englishman's Boy engages with contemporary critical debate on racial discourse in literature. The thread of allusions to H.L. Mencken, whose anti-Semitic views were not publicly known at the time the novel is set but had become infamous by the time of its publication, brings the question of critical influence and responsibility to the fore. The echoing of Mencken's rhetorical style and ideas through characters like Harry Vincent, Damon Chance, and Rachel Gold serves as a barometer of personal morality by exploring the relationship between morality and the use or abuse of language in the telling of history. Vanderhaeghe's use of faith-based allusions raises the postmodern question of whether truth exists beneath the constructed stories of history. However, while acknowledging the complexity of historical truth, the novel ultimately suggests that all narrative is connected to real life, and that writers like Mencken should be held accountable for their words, whether spoken or omitted.