On this day…9 March

On 9 March 1896 Robert McAlmon was born.

Born in Kansas, McAlmon moved to New York after serving in the army at the end of the First World War. In New York he edited Contact magazine with William Carlos Williams in 1920-1921, after which he moved to Paris where he became friendly with Joyce.

McAlmon married Winifred Ellerman, daughter of the shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman, one of the richest men in England, and McAlmon benefited from that wealth. He set up Contact Publishing Company through which he published his own short stories and poems, his wife’s writing (under the name ‘Bryher’), and works by Hemingway, HD, William Carlos Williams, and Gertrude Stein as well as many others. Part of Joyce’s Work in Progress appeared in the Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers in May 1925.

McAlmon spent quite a bit of time with Joyce in the 1920s. In August 1921 Joyce had him type out the first five sentences of the ‘Penelope’ episode of Ulysses. McAlmon struggled with the manuscript on which Joyce had made numerous insertions and additions, and occasionally he got the material in the wrong order. When he saw that Joyce had left the typescript as it was, McAlmon asked him if he’d noticed the changes. Joyce said he had but agreed with the changes McAlmon had made.

During 1921, McAlmon advanced Joyce over $100 a month, and even later in their friendship McAlmon continued to give Joyce money, and gifts of ties, and even a ring. McAlmon and Larbaud were the first people Joyce told when he completed Ulysses on 29 October 1921.

Joyce trusted McAlmon’s judgement and often asked his advice. When Harriet Weaver told Joyce she thought he was wasting his talent on Work in Progress, it was McAlmon he turned to for reassurance. McAlmon was also one of the twelve contributors to Our Exagmination round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress in 1929.

In 1938 McAlmon published Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930, an autobiographical account of his time in Paris, and he read the book to Joyce over several afternoons. McAlmon’s depiction of Joyce as part of a hard-drinking Bohemian group of writers and artists did not impress Joyce, and he later referred to the book as ‘the office boy’s revenge.’ Their friendship, which had already been waning, was not very close after publication of the book.

McAlmon returned to America after the Nazi occupation of France in 1940, and he died in California in 1956.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

McAlmon, Robert: Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930, London: Secker & Warburg, 1938.

– -: Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930, Revised and with Supplementary Chapters by Kay Boyle, London: Michael Joseph, 1970.

– -: McAlmon and the Lost Generation, A Self-Portrait, edited by Robert E. Knoll, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1962.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.