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 January 2011

Thirty Years

John Stinson Glassco
December 15, 1909 – January 29, 1981


26 January 2011

The Olympia Glassco - Book the Second

The English Governess
Miles Underwood [pseud. John Glassco]
Paris: Ophelia, 1960 [sic]

In his seventy-one years, John Glassco produced five books of verse, eight volumes of translation, and the prose masterpiece Memoirs of Montparnasse, but not one approached the sales he enjoyed with The English Governess and its sister book Harriet Marwood, Governess. Both stories of flagellantine romance between a boy, Richard Lovel, and his beautiful governess, Harriet Marwood, they're easily confused and are often described as being one and the same.

Though published second, Harriet Marwood, Governess is actually the older of the two. In 1959, it was offered to Maurice Girodias, but the publisher thought it too tame. Glassco then rewrote the novel – perhaps with the help of Elma, his wife – slashing it by more than half and ramping up the sex. Made to order, as The English Governess it was quickly accepted and appeared within ninety days under Olympia's Ophelia Press imprint.

Glassco chose not to be identified as the author, selecting Miles Underwood as a nom de plume. He kept his secret for over a year, and only began to reveal himself when seeking legal advice from F.R. Scott concerning Girodias' non-payment.

The English Governess was a immediate success, a favourite in a market that relied almost exclusively on word of mouth. Reprinted after just three months, on 10 January 1961 it was suppressed by French authorities under a decades-old decree targeting périodiques et ouvrages de provenance étrangère. As was his practice, Girodias reissued the banned novel using a different title: Under the Birch: The Story of an English Governess. Not much of a disguise, but more than enough to baffle the brigade mondaine. The novel has since appeared as The Governess (a pirated edition) and in a bowdlerized edition published under the catch-all title The Authentic Confessions of Harriet Marwood, an English Governess.

Note: My two volume copy, printed by Taiwanese pirates, is a cheap reproduction of the first edition. I'm assuming that these disreputable souls divided the novel in half so as to enable the rusting staple binding.

23 January 2011

The Olympia Glassco - Book the First

Under the Hill
Aubrey Beardsley, completed by John Glassco
Paris: Olympia, 1959

Aubrey Beardsley devoted a good portion of his short life to this retelling of the Tannhaüser legend, and returned to it repeatedly until the last cough.

While Glassco claimed that he'd first read an expurgated version as a boy (unlikely), and had hand copied the true text as a McGill University student (possible), it wasn't until 1948 that he began this completion of Beardsley's work. He picks up the abandoned thread mid-way through the tenth chapter, then, following the legend and Beardsley's rough plan, adds a further nine. Glassco doesn't create so much as a seam – despite introducing personal interests not shared by the dead Decadent: flagellation and the touch of the governess. In his completion, Glassco has Tannhaüser attend a performance of Pink Cheeks, a pantomime-operetta that is advertised as "Two Hours of Fun & Flagellation". Later, while in Rome to seek absolution, the Minnesänger sets out to transcribe his sins, lest he forget any transgression before the Holy Father. In doing so, he casts his mind back to the governesses of his childhood: Mlle Fanfreluche, with whom he'd shared "merry games at bedtime", and a later woman who had first introduced him to the pleasures of the birch.

In its first edition, Under the Hill looks unlike any other Olympia Press book. Illustrated by Beardsley, printed on heavy stock, bound in green watered silk, and issued in a numbered edition of three thousand, it was a extravagant production that Girodias would never repeat.

In the summer of 1965, French authorities seized Under the Hill. The unsold stock, more than half the print run, was threatened with destruction. In defending the book, publisher Maurice Girodias was placed in the absurd position of having to prove Beardsley's reputation as a respected artist in a court of law.

The charges attracted interest from the London's New English Library, which quickly published a paperback edition to capitalize on a Beardsley revival being fuelled by an immensely popular retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Yet, despite all this excitement and interest across La Manche, Girodias lost his case. In August 1966, all copies of the elegant Olympia Press edition seized eleven months earlier were condemned to the flame.

Glassco was heartbroken, and could not understand the decision in that he'd never thought of Under the Hill as pornography: "It is romantic, rococo, faisandé, Huysmanesque, playful, madly affected, solidly in the tradition of dandyism; it's even got a highly moral ending, with Tannhaüser officially damned & trapped forever under the hill. I wouldn't be in his elegant slippers for anything."

Tannhaüser Before the Hill of Venus

Legal note: Under French law, Glassco, as copyright holder, should have been charged alongside the publisher. After the court case was lost, Girodias wrote the author: "Curiously, and strangely, the prosecuting magistrate preferred to consider that you did not exist, and that you were a figment of my imagination, if you pardon the expression. I did not oppose that view naturally."

17 January 2011

John Glassco's Montreal

I do not like you Jean Drapeau,
And well I know the reason why;
Your concentration on the cash
(That peasant passion)
Shows always in the lipless grin
Under the little merciless moustache,
Revealing what ideas swim within
The circle of your skull
To make our city — in the modern fashion —
Not beautiful
But only big, and rich, and dull.

— John Glassco,
Montreal, 1973

John Glassco had a complicated relationship with the city of his birth. At eighteen, he saw it as a place of provincialism and famously fled for Paris, where he enjoyed and endured Montparnassian adventures and was very nearly felled by tuberculosis. Yet, this same Montreal – the Royal Victoria Hospital, to be precise – held the knowledge and talent that saved his life. After his recovery, Glassco again escaped the city, settled in the Eastern Townships, and lived as a semi-recluse. It was only in his last two decades that he truly returned. Many of his final years were spent on an unpublished novel, Guilt and Mourning, set in a fantastic Montreal that has been spared the destruction of the 20th century.

Above is the westernmost entrance to the Guy-Concordia Metro station, located at the northwest corner of St-Mathieu and de Maisonneuve. In 1909, it was the site of a grand house in which the poet was born. This stretch of de Maisonneuve was then known as St-Luc – hence, "Jean de Saint-Luc", the pseudonym he claimed to have used for Contes en crinoline, his faux first book. St-Luc was made part of de Maisonneuve in the 1950s (following modifications to the intersection at Guy).

Simpson Street's Chelsea Place, looking towards Sherbrooke. A large gathering of Neo-Georgian homes with pleasant courtyard, it rests on the foundation and grounds of Edward Rawlings' mansion. Rawlings, the founder of the Guarantee Company of North America, was Glassco's maternal grandfather. The poet often claimed the mansion as his birthplace – not true, though he did live there for several years as a boy. In 1925, it was sold and razed; the gardens were plowed over and its peach orchard was destroyed. All that remains is a lone chestnut tree (to the left of the passing PT Cruiser).

St James the Apostle, at the corner of Ste-Catherine and Bishop, was the church he attended as a child. His parents were married there, as was he (twice). On 2 February 1981, it served as the location of his funeral.

Glassco never raised a glass at O'Regan's Irish Pub, though he drank plenty within its walls. In the 'sixties and 'seventies the address 1224 Bishop Street (less than half a block south of St James the Apostle) was a flat that he rented as his Montreal pied-à-terre.

3663 Jeanne-Mance (right door, two uppermost floors), Glassco's final Montreal address. He shared this flat with his second wife, Marion McCormick, for nearly ten years. On 29 January 1981, the poet died in a small room on the top storey.

16 January 2011

Immoral or Indecent

The current issue of Canadian Notes and Queries features my piece on The Temple of Pederasty, an accomplished bit of hoaxery that Glassco attributed to the non-existent "Dr Hideki Okada". Published in 1970, Canadian customs agents deemed the work "immoral or indecent" – seems they couldn't be more specific – preventing its sale in the author's home and native land.

"GRAPHICALLY ILLUSTRATED" by the late Philip Core, it's held by Library and Archives Canada and the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of McGill University Library.

Since penning the CNQ piece, I've learned that The Temple of Pederasty is being sold as a download – sans permission – by an online bookseller. I will not be providing a link.

15 January 2011

Remembering John Glassco

A belated welcome to this cyberplace, a space for news and reviews of A Gentleman of Pleasure, my biography of poet, translator, memoirist and pornographer John Glassco. In anticipation of its April release, as appetizers, I'll be posting some of my shorter writings on Glassco, including several squibs that first appeared at The Dusty Bookcase.

But first, a link to a piece on Glassco and the book by Mark Abley, posted a few days ago on the MQUP blog:

It was my very good fortune to have Mark as editor for the book.