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McAlmon, Robert (1896-1956)  
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Also while living in Greenwich Village, McAlmon became acquainted with the poet William Carlos Williams, who would become his closest and most loyal friend. To provide a forum for adventurous young American writers, McAlmon and Williams founded the literary magazine Contact. They published the magazine five times in 1920 and 1921 and released a single, more luxurious issue in 1923. Although an economic failure, Contact presented work by many of the leading figures of the early 1920s, including Ezra Pound and Marianne Moore, among others.


On Valentine's Day, 1921, McAlmon married Annie Winifred Ellerman (1894-1983), who preferred to be called Bryher, her literary pseudonym. Bryher was the daughter of Sir John Reeves Ellerman, a British shipping magnate who had become one of the wealthiest men in the world by the early 1920s. From the first announcement of the wedding, controversy surrounded this marriage.

Eager to protect his daughter from fortune hunters, Ellerman greatly restricted Bryher's contact with the world outside his house. Nevertheless, he allowed her to travel in 1918 to the United States with the poet Hilda Doolittle, called H.D. Undoubtedly, he was unaware that H.D. was Bryher's lover.

McAlmon first met Bryher when she stopped briefly in New York on her way to Los Angeles in September 1920, but he did not have the opportunity to get further acquainted with her until she returned to New York early in 1921. According to Williams and many of McAlmon's other associates, he initially knew Bryher only by her pseudonym and did not realize her wealthy family background until shortly before the wedding.

However, rumors, widely reported in American tabloid newspapers, characterized McAlmon as a "gold digger" seeking access to the Ellerman fortune. In later years, Bryher endorsed these claims, insisting that the marriage had been strictly a business arrangement, which she proposed in order to secure the freedom to live outside her father's home. Some recent queer commentators, including Gore Vidal, also have endorsed the theory that McAlmon understood that he was entering into a marriage of convenience and have disparaged his apparently selfish intentions.

Maintaining that he chose to marry Bryher because he loved her, McAlmon repeatedly asserted that he was both surprised and distressed by her refusal to consummate their union. Williams, Sylvia Beach, and many other intimate friends strongly supported McAlmon's account.

Although McAlmon steadfastly refused to blame Bryher for his later difficulties, most of his friends maintained that the circumstances of the marriage caused him to become cynical about human relationships and thereby ultimately contributed to the isolation of his later years. Sanford Smoller, the author of the most comprehensive study of McAlmon's career yet published, also blames most of McAlmon's professional setbacks to the failure of his relationship with Bryher. Thus, Smoller maintains that if McAlmon had married a more compatible woman, "he might have experienced the professional and personal satisfaction that consistently eluded him."

Underlying most of the discussion about McAlmon's marriage is the unstated assumption that his sexuality must be defined in terms of the binary categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality. However, McAlmon emphatically described himself as a bisexual throughout his life, and his assertions can be supported through an analysis of his writings. Although heavily edited, the published editions of Being Geniuses Together, his memoirs of his life in Paris, provide ample, though subtle, indications of his romantic and sexual interest in both men and women.

Furthermore, McAlmon's bisexuality may also be expressed in the story "Green Grow the Grasses," which is infused with a warm, idyllic romanticism, unusual in his work. Ironically, this story is frequently cited as a demonstration of McAlmon's exclusive homosexuality. To this end, the loving gazes between the narrator and the handsome Antoine have been discussed in isolation, rather than in the context of the actual grouping of the narrator, Antoine, and the beautiful Enid.

McAlmon in Europe: 1921-1923

Through his marriage to Bryher, McAlmon realized his ambition to become part of the dynamic community of expatriate writers and artists in Europe. On February 26, 1921, he and Bryher set sail for Great Britain. After spending a few weeks in London, McAlmon moved on alone to Paris.

In various interviews, Sylvia Beach maintained that McAlmon was one of the first Americans to patronize her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. Assuming the role of older sister, Beach allowed him to use her store as his address and introduced him into the expatriate community. Encouraging him to write, Beach tried to prevent him from squandering his talents through heavy drinking, but she noted that "the drinks were always on him, and alas! often in him." In Being Geniuses Together, McAlmon acknowledged that there had been "much ordering of drinks," which helped to foster "moments of enjoying the sodden destruction of time in a weary world."

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