Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

S. S. McClure, the Conrad Circle, and the Messy London Season of 1909

Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

S. S. McClure, the Conrad Circle, and the Messy London Season of 1909

Article excerpt

IF WE ARE to believe Violet Hunt, Conrad never "cared very much for the idea of America" (1926: 36). Such a political view, if held by Conrad, may have influenced his personal relations with certain Americans, not fellow writers so much as those in the publishing business. Conrad developed a singular contempt for S. S. McClure, the American publisher of The Inheritors (1900) and Romance (1903), Conrad's collaborations with Ford Madox Ford. While Conrad contributed only one story, "The Brute," to McClure's Magazine, the firm of Doubleday, McClure published Lord Jim, the McClure Company published "The Duel," under the title The Point of Honor, and the McClure syndicate attempted to place serials of "The Heart of Darkness," Lord Jim, and other works. Katherine Isobel Baxter has recently traced Conrad's relationship to McClure as evidenced in Conrad's letters.1 The present essay attempts to add another dimension to our understanding of Conrad's complex relationship to McClure by collating those materials with documents in the McClure Manuscripts archive held in Indiana University's Lilly Library.

The Conrad/Ford Collaborations

Conrad's dealings with S. S. McClure fall into two chronological periods, the first during Conrad's early collaborations with Ford (1898-1903) and the second during the time leading up to his estrangement from Ford (1908-09). In the intervening years (1903-08) McClure was preoccupied with a number of business transitions in his magazine and publishing house activities, changes that were the result of the strained working relations in his New York office, due largely to McClure's personality. The publisher was a human dynamo: gregarious, energetic, and optimistic to the point of naiveté. His close associate Ida B. Tarbell described him as "a vibrant, eager, indomitable personality that electrified even the experienced and the cynical" (1939: 119). But he was also single-minded, demanding, intuitive, impulsive, and willing to take gigantic business risks.

McClure would invest himself and his fortune in writers and editorial staff to whom he took a liking or in whom he perceived a certain gift; his intuition was often correct. He hired Tarbell, who wrote for McClure's Magazine a series of articles that dramatically increased circulation: the Life of Lincoln and the History of the Standard Oil Company, the latter series inspiring Teddy Roosevelt (with whom McClure personally corresponded) to coin the term "muckraker." She became managing editor when McClure was afield looking for ideas for the magazine, contacting potential contributors, or taking lengthy (and expensive) family rest-cures in Europe.

The magazine enjoyed tremendous success from 1898 to 1906, averaging a circulation of approximately 370,000 during these years, and hitting a peak of 414,000 in 1906 (Lyon 1963: 251). But as the magazine was increasingly run by others, when "the Chief" returned to the New York office, he was more a distraction than an inspiring leader. His talented editorial staff abandoned the magazine en masse in 1906, and McClure hired a new editorial team, headed by Willa Cather, that for several months included Perceval Gibbon, an editorial staff that McClure highly valued.2 Gibbon would later become close to the Conrad family and who, according to Jessie Conrad, was the Conrads' most intimate friend.3

Conrad began his association with S. S. McClure in May or June of 1898. At that time he wrote enthusiastically to Edward Garnett about a joint meeting with David Meldrum and McClure to discuss the publication of The Rescue by Blackwood in England and McClure in America. Conrad was delighted with the results: "McClure has been the pink of perfection. 'We will be glad to get as much as we can for you in America' - and so on" (CL2 62). Although it is impossible to tell if the meeting was with Sam or his brother Robert, the self-assured tone in Conrad's quote is more like the personality of S.S., who was in London on 6 May 1898 when he wrote to his wife Hattie: "I propose to see a great many people but leisurely, so I may spend two weeks here" (Lilly, McClure MSS. …

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