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.

28 February 2011

The Translator's Copy

Venus in Furs [Venus im Pelz]
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch [John Glassco, trans.]
Burnaby, BC: Blackfish, 1977

"This book was printed in an edition of 1,500 copies on Byronic Text India paper. There is a special series of 26 hardbound copies printed on Byronic Text Grey paper, signed and lettered from A to Z by the translator."

Booksellers invariably mention the low print run of this, the finest English language translation of Sacher-Masoch's masterpiece. And why not? A full thirty-three years have passed and still it has never been reprinted.

Blackfish co-publisher Brian Brett once told me that the he wasn't so sure that all 26 copies of the signed and lettered edition were ever produced. Seems they were pretty much made to order... no order, no book.

This copy, which once belonged to Glassco, was bought for C$150 twenty years ago. The dab of liquid paper remains something of a mystery, though I do have my theories (most involving drink).

The remaining 1474 or so copies were published in both paper (below) and hardcover. As might be expected, the former is less dear – Very Good copies go for US$30 to US$60 (ignore the copy currently listed online at C$125). The hardcover is more uncommon – expect to pay nothing less than US$175 (a bargain).

I've not seen another copy of the signed and lettered edition offered for sale.

22 February 2011

A Long Lost Song of the Sea?

Sailors don’t care,
Sailors don’t care
Whether she’s dark
Or whether she’s fair!
As long as her lily-white bottom is bare
Sailors don’t care!
I caught myself singing this ditty while going through some paperwork last autumn.

Better at my desk than in church.

Ribald? You bet! But my real interest lies in the song's connection to American author Edwin Lanham's debut novel Sailors Don't Care (1929), first published in Paris by Contact Editions. The author and his publisher, Robert McAlmon, had contradictory stories as to the origins of the title – each credited the other – though it's probable that they drew from our own John Glassco. Then a teenager, the Montreal poet had learned the song aboard the Canadian Traveller, the cargo ship that in 1928 carried him across the Atlantic to his Montparnassean adventures. Fourteen years later, Glassco wrote McAlmon, reminding him that the title "was taken from Captain Miller's (no relation to Henry) song in the second chapter of those abortive memoirs of mine ... both you and Ed read it, I know."

The lyrics to Captain Miller's song are found in John Glassco's papers at Library and Archives Canada... and, it seems, nowhere else.

Andrew Draskóy, of Shanties & Sea Songs, tells me that "'sailors don’t care' was a common saying around that time in its sense of sailors aren't picky." I note that the phrase also gave title to two American films, the first released the year before Lanham’s book was published. However, what I find particularly interesting is its appearance in the Victor Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer song "The Fleet's In", from the 1942 film of the same name. Its use is... well... fleeting. You'll hear the words just after the two minute mark:
She may be dark or fair,
But sailors don't care...

I wonder, was Johnny Mercer also familiar with Captain Miller's song?

It's worth noting that Sailors Don't Care was published twice. The less ribald 1930 Jonathan Cape edition will set you back US$1000. The truly wealthy might consider the most desirable copy of the dirtier first edition, currently listed online. Inscribed by Lanham to McAlmon's partner in publishing William Carlos Williams, it goes for a mere US$2250.

Reliant upon his siblings, McAlmon died in near-poverty in 1956. At the time, Lanham was living a hand to mouth existence as a writer of mystery novels. Glassco had yet to publish his first book.

20 February 2011

A Dutch Treat

De Venusberg [Under the Hill]
Aubrey Beardsley and John Glassco [Werner Cranshoff, trans.]
Amsterdam: Uitgeversij de Arbeiderspers, 1971.

14 February 2011

Picturing Harriet Marwood

Google Harriet Marwood, the heroine of John Glassco's The English Governess, and you'll find the top site brings this image of a "Professional Disciplinarian and Spankologist" located in New York City. The visitor is told that this "no nonsense lady... takes her inspiration from a renowned, stern English governess of longstanding literary fame and believes in the expert application of all manner of traditional domestic corporal discipline as needed and/or deserved." I'm not so sure this is how the author imagined his creation, though I can say with great certainty that the modern Ms Marwood's clothing isn't at all correct.

Glassco commissioned dozens of illustrations for his erotic works – The Temple of Pederasty (banned), Fetish Girl (rejected), Squire Hardman (unused) and The Jupiter Sonnets (unpublished) – but nothing at all for Harriet, governess to Richard Lovel. The only sense we have of how Glassco saw his creation is found in his writing. Here she is, as first viewed through the eyes of Richard's father:
Mr. Lovel saw before him a tall young woman in her middle twenties, dressed with quiet elegance. A brunette with a very white skin, she wore her dark, almost black hair in a plain style under her small bonnet, parted from forehead to crown and drawn smoothly back to a heavy chignon at the nape of her strong, graceful neck. Her brow was well-shaped and intellectual, the nose was straight, short and full of energy, the mouth rather wide, with full underlie, the chin quite prominent. Everything in her face and pose denoted decision and force; but her glance, reserved, serious, even academic, could not conceal the warm brilliance of her violet-grey eyes.

The first published version of Harriet and Richard's romance, The English Governess (Paris: Ophelia, 1960), had no cover illustration; nor did the reissue Under the Birch (Paris: Ophelia, 1965). It wasn't until the appearance of the more polite telling of this love story, Harriet Marwood, Governess (New York: Grove, 1967), that the heroine was finally depicted.

As with Fetish Girl, Glassco hated the cover. Here he complained that the model, "though well constructed", had "the countenance of a mental defective".

This poor failed Harriet reappears recast on the cover of the 1970 Grove edition of Yvonne; or, The Adventures and Intrigues of a French Governess with Her Pupils, an erotic novel first published in 1899. Of the other depictions of the flagellating governess, Glassco would have only seen the first two. Sadly, his opinions are unrecorded.

Tuchtiging tot Tederheid [Harriet Marwood, Governess]
Anonymous [Gerrit Komrij, trans.]
Amsterdam: Uitgeversij de Arbeiderspers, 1969.
Tuchtiging tot Tederheid? Rough translation: Discipline to Tenderness.

Harriet Marwood, Governess
John Glassco
Toronto: General, 1976
The lone Canadian edition of the cleaner version, and the only one to be printed under Glassco's name. It features an intentionally misleading Preface written by the author.

Harriet Marwood, Governess
New York: Grove, 1986.
An edition that perpetuates the misconception that the novel dates from the time of Queen Victoria. From the back cover: "A curious exploration of the private lives of outwardly uptight Victorians... Alongside such classics as My Secret Life, Pleasure Bound, A Man with a Maid, The Pearl, Harriet Marwood, Governess takes its place as one of the outstanding works of erotic fiction produced in the Victorian era."

The English Governess
New York: Masquerade, 1998
Harriet as a poor man's Bettie Page. There is nothing in the packaging to suggest that the book doesn't take place in the 'fifties.

The English Governess
New York: Masquerade, 1998
A second Masquerade cover from the very same year as the first.

The English Governess
John Glassco
Ottawa: Golden Dog, 2000
The sole Canadian edition of The English Governess, and the only one to appear under the author's real name. It has a great advantage over previous editions in that it features a highly informative introduction by Michael Gnarowski.

The English Governess: Harriet Marwood
Miles Underwood
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex: AKS, 2002
A confusingly titled edition – really The English Governess – with an illustration that has nothing to do with the era in which the novel is set.

11 February 2011


A few photos from a very enjoyable and eventful weekend spent last July at the Knowlton Wordfest. Taken in nearby Foster, these feature what is left of the home of Bill Arnold, one of John Glassco's neighbours. A veteran of the Great War, Arnold called his house "Blighty". The man and building inspired Glassco's 20-line of the same name, which was first published in the November 1952 issue of The Canadian Forum.

See by the tracks, where a sodden shingled roof
Droops on a worn façade, a wilting visor
Over dead window-panes and the lettered board
Where exultation, curled into one word,
Still celebrates a half forgotten war —

That "lettered board", featuring the name of Arnold's house, remained nailed above the front door for nearly nine decades. It was stolen at about this time last year.

07 February 2011

'Glassco In Quebec' - Todd Swift

It's an honur to present the debut of this new verse by Todd Swift, poet, critic, lecturer and the man behind the invaluable Eyewear. His most recent book, Modern Canadian Poets (Carcenet, 2010), co-edited with Evan Jones, features two poems and three translations by Glassco.

Glassco In Quebec (Huysmans In France, Brummell In England)

A pastoral, obscure dandy
Observes the barns decay
As if an aging roué
With the ladies of his parish.

The wood is blond skin, Sapphic,
The fields of hay grand streets,
The locals in their carts
To market, jaunty toffs

Bowing to all the prettiness
Their rutted courting meets;
The rows of tools, sparkling scythes
Are canes made of the finest stuff;

The farm’s sunburnt dust motes
Setting off the nose like good snuff;
The daughters to their waist in grain
Are dancers for a grinning queen

Who demands they begin again.
These provincial details
He disciplined with classical romance,
A young buck from Paris back

From hanging out that took
Half his chest away.
Rich slow sanatoriums
Bought with ancestral bonds, language

Wilder than childhood’s golden pear trees
Allowed notebooks to accrue;
A growing account; and a lung’s
Complicated tug – coughing up

Green that desire brings.
Style kept him sane.
Style exposed his lack –
His luck to beach south of Montreal

In pairs of three, even so
Acquiring like a servant or opinion
A quaint normalcy that ran
Seasonal as farming, as

Eternally tough, basic.
Released from artifice,
Whipped into being finally natural,
Or, it may be, infamous, a bit rough.

02 February 2011

Robert McAlmon's Service to Canada

Recognition of Robert Menzies McAlmon, who died fifty-five years ago today. Though not a Canadian, his contributions to this country's literature were not insignificant. He was an early champion of Morley Callaghan, and more importantly, a great supporter of John Glassco. It was McAlmon who placed Glassco's "Extract from an Autobiography" in the Spring 1929 number of This Quarter, and it was through his encouragement that the Montreal writer returned to print, after a fourteen-year silence, in the pages of The Canadian Forum.

McAlmon had other links to this country. His Irish-born father immigrated to Canada as a youth and eventually married a girl from Chatham, Ontario. They were living in Clifton, Kansas when the future expat was born.

In Memoirs of Montparnasse, Glassco tells us that on the evening he first met McAlmon the writer revealed that he'd deserted the Canadian Army during the Great War. William Carlos Williams reports the same story in his accurately titled The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams. For decades McAlmon scholars took this to be a fanciful fabrication. I did, too... until I found his records while researching A Gentleman of Pleasure.

Should I have been surprised? Perhaps not. After all, McAlmon's fiction relied so very heavily on his life. This, Glassco felt, was the writer's greatest weakness. He once dismissed McAlmon's fiction as "literal transcriptions of things set down simply because they had happened and were vividly recollected. There was neither invention nor subterfuge; when the recollection stopped, so did the story."

McAlmon did have his own champions – Ezra Pound and Kay Boyle come first to mind – but he was never a man who was much read. While his work may be unfamiliar, his influence is evident – not only with Callaghan and Glassco, but in the careers of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and others who benefitted from his generous spirit.

Unrecognized, neglected and weakened by illness, McAlmon lived his final years in near-poverty. He remains much as he was at death: a forgotten man.

Even a deserter deserves better.

Robert McAlmon
Mariette Mills
c. 1923

Crossposted at The Dusty Bookcase.

01 February 2011

'The Heavenly Boy'

John Glassco's last published verse, "The Heavenly Boy" appeared for the first and only time in the December 1980 issue of Saturday Night. The poet died the following month.