Welcome to this cyberplace, set up as a space for news and reviews of A Gentleman of Pleasure and occasional jottings about John Glassco. Five years have now passed since publication, and I've moved on to other projects, but I'm leaving this up with the thought that those drawn to Glassco's writing will find something of interest.

29 November 2014

À rebours

It's been a year since I've written anything here, which is not to say that there hasn't been activity involving things Glassco. The last few months have brought reviews of A Gentleman of Pleasure by Robert Edison Sandiford (The Antigonish Review) and The Heart Accepts It All by Bruce Whiteman (Canadian Notes & Queries). The former is available online. Here's an excerpt:
Busby’s biography is as much forensic exercise as literary reclamation. He is only interested in the facts of Glassco’s life and work that can be corroborated. The level of cross-checking he had to do must have been drink-inducing. But it pays off with a book that gives a lively and accurate account of a Canadian writer who was at one point one of the country’s most significant translators and who remains iconic because of his famous fictionalized memoir.
Speaking of fiction, this past Hallowe'en morn my eyes were drawn to this Margaret Cannon review on the Globe & Mail website:

Glassco died young? As I creep up in age, seventy-one no longer seems so ancient. But still.

I've always meant to read Murder in Montparnasse, if only to see whether Glassco, Taylor, Callaghan, McAlmon and other fixtures of that time and place feature in its pages. I had no idea that the protagonist of the 1992 mystery is based on Glassco; no one else has ever made the connection.  To be honest, nothing in Ms Cannon's writing convinces me that this is so. You'll forgive me, I hope, for pointing out that she botches the title of Glassco's memoirs.

Still, I'll make a point of reading Engel's mystery.

A decade or so ago, when I began work on what would become A Gentleman of Pleasure, a fellow writer cautioned. "Do this and Glassco will always be with you," he said. "The biographer's subject haunts."

He himself had written the biography of a man whom he'd come to despise.

His experience is not mine.

I leave the second to last words to Sandiford:
Busby may be overly sympathetic at times, which is understandable given his subject, but there is something all of us – artist and not – can understand of Glassco’s very human doubts that he may be merely a “trifler, dilettante, petit-maître.”
Indeed, in all of us.

Cross-posted, with some changes, at The Dusty Bookcase.

29 November 2013

Byron's Goose: John Glassco's One Great Play

Canadian artistic directors!

A half-century ago, your predecessors received the above. I've taken the liberty of transcribing the text:
       Comedy in 3 Acts. 2 sets. Cast of 12 (4 principals). Standard playing time. Scene: Vienna and Ravenna in 1822.
       Byron's final tragicomic relationship with his last mistress 19-year-old Teresa Guiccioli, her eccentric 70-year-old husband, her father and brother (amateur revolutionaries), and his friend Trelawny. His ambitions as lover of Teresa, as would-be liberator of Italy; his involvement in revolutionary, family and social intrigue, climaxed by his cutting himself free of the entanglements of his background and leaving for Greece.
       The play is tightly knit, with rapid action and with dialogue sparkling with Byron's own special brand of wit, overall tone is one of sophisticated comedy relieved by sentiment and action. Gives a new and sympathetic view of Byron as an aging but far from superannuated figure of romance; of Terasa as a blend of charm, devotion and duplicity; of Count Guiccioli as a fantastic and disreputable old man selling his polite consent to adultery; of Trelawny as an ultra-Byronic hero, adventurous, gloomy, dauntless, a little absurd.
       Has great possibilities for eventual adaptation as a musical in the same style as 'Camelot'.
       Complete script will be mailed on request.
John Glassco,
John Glassco considered Byron's Goose his "one great play". Daytime soaps and radio drama aside, I've had no experience writing scripts, so won't presume to judge. That said, I am confident in deeming it superior to The Augean Stable, a very loose adaptation of Harriet Marwood, Governess, the only other work Glassco composed for the stage.

Mr Glassco having passed from this sphere in 1981, requests to Foster will be met with frustration. Interested parties are advised to contact Library and Archives Canada, which holds the script in its John Glassco fonds.

Antoni Cimolino, do not repeat Michael Langham's error!

Cross-posted at The Dusty Bookcase

18 November 2013

John Glassco, Book Thief

Pettes Memorial Library, Knowlton, Quebec
Hugely flattered to hear you stole my book. This is fame. I used to steal a lot of books myself, mostly from libraries: my method was to look at the little card in the back envelope and if it hadn’t been taken out more than twice in the past year I would figure I needed it more than the public. 
— John Glassco, letter to Al Purdy, 18 September 1964
John Glassco, that self-proclaimed "great practitioner of deceit," made a very fine book thief. His personal library, most of which was purchased by Queen's University, includes volumes lifted from the Westmount Public Library and the Royal Edward Laurentian Hospital.

Queen's is not alone in having profited from Glassco's ill-gotten gains. Twenty-three years ago, I purchased what I thought to be his copy of Irving Layton's Balls for a One-Armed Juggler (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1963).

A couple of decades passed before I happened to notice this on the top edge:

Glassco dated the copy April 1963, the month of publication. It is presented here as evidence that he was not above breaking the rule described in his letter to Purdy:

Two summer's ago, I purchased another of Glassco's books, Henry de Montherlant's Perish in Their Pride [Les Célibataires] (New York: Knopf, 1936), only to notice this after the sale:

(cliquez pour agrandir)
The Laurentian Sanitarium became the Royal Edward Laurentian Hospital, at which Glassco spent a nearly all of 1961 undergoing treatment for tuberculosis. On 3 November of that year he wrote his wife:
Now that I’m getting ready to leave I’m casting a selective eye on the books in the library. There’s just so much stuff here I’d like to opt (organizieren) that no one has ever read or will ever read. But I’d better not: that’s bad medicine. Only two: Robert Elie’s La fin des songes (there are three copies, all untouched) and Madame Ellis’ book on Garneau. They’ll none of them be missed, as Gilbert says. Anyway, I’d like to give them a good home.
How's that for gratitude?

Trivia: The book Purdy pilfered was The Deficit Made Flesh (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1958). The victim was a Montreal bookseller.

Plug: Both Glassco letters quoted feature in The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco, edited by yours truly.

Cross-posted at The Dusty Bookcase.

23 October 2013

Steven W. Beattie on The Heart Accepts It All

Steven W. Beattie earns the distinction of publishing the first review of The Heart Accepts It All:
Glassco's letters are addressed to a veritable who's who of Canadian and international literati: the Margaret's (Atwood and Laurence), Northrop Frye, F.R. Scott, Irving Layton, Malcolm Cowley, and Leon Edel, among others. Glassco enjoys caricaturing people based on their physical appearances, and can be vicious in his assessments (referring to a documentary about Leonard Cohen, he expresses shock that the National Film Board "was induced to collaborate on the indulgence of a 5th-rate poet's megalomania"). Morley Callaghan, in particular, is subject of repeated salvos.
     And yet the correspondence also displays the workings of an adroit and capable literary mind (his assessments of the Marquis de Sade and D.H. Lawrence are cogent and persuasive), and a man with a keen understanding of the business side of publishing. There is a certain amount of the quotidian details and repetition one might expect from a collection of personal letters (Busby points out that none of the entries has been edited), but overall the book provides an interesting glimpse into the private world of one of Canada's most enigmatic literary figures.
More in the November issue of Quill & Quire!

12 October 2013

The Foster Poetry Conference at Fifty

Irving Layton, Milton Wilson, Leonard Cohen, Eli Mandel and Aviva Layton,
Foster Poetry Conference,, October 1963
Off to the Eastern Townships this morning to celebrate the publication of The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco:
Brome Lake Books
265 E Knowlton Rd
Knowlton, QC
12 October 2013, 2:00 pm
And what better day than today? 'Twas fifty years ago – 12 October 1963 – that Glassco's Foster Poetry Conference opened at the Glen Mountain Ski Chalet. With Glassco, F.R. Scott, A.J.M. Smith, Irving Layton, Louis Dudek, Ralph Gustafson, Eldon Grier, D. G. Jones, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Angel, Kenneth Hetrz, Henry Moscowitz and Seymour Mayne, it remains the greatest gathering of Quebec's English-language poets.

Three days of poetry, comradeship and drink, even the most subdued reports paint it as a great success. Scott was so fired by the experience that he pressured Glassco to edit the proceedings for McGill University Press.

Glassco agreed to take on the project, but soon came to recognize that the contents failed to capture anything of the exuberant nature of the conference. The late night conversations, the raw exchanges, the drinking – almost all that had been informal, spontaneous, and dynamic had been left unrecorded. What's more he found work on the book a "horrible bore." On 4 May 1964, he wrote Jean Le Moyne: "I shall never be an editor again: this is the work for professionals who have secretaries, electric typewriters, photocopy machines, the co-ordinative faculty and endless patience: but the book is now ready for press."

When the galleys arrived Glassco found the quality so poor that the November 1964 publication date had to be scratched. For months the anthology hung over his head as he awaited, with dread, the reset galleys. What arrived was much improved and he moved quickly to clear the sheets from his desk. Then, just when his work appeared to be finished, Glassco discovered that he'd been saddled with the task of distributing payments to the twenty contributors. The irritation was only compounded by the small sums. Leonard Cohen received three dollars, barely enough to purchase a copy of the book.

My work in editing Glassco's letters was much more pleasurable.