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.

25 June 2011

Fetish Girl's Fetish

The pseudonymous Fetish Girl was Glassco's last pornographic novel. Its heroine is Ursula, a "pretty long-legged bitch of wide and varied experience." A sympathetic figure, the poor girl lives in frustration, due entirely to her inability to find a man who shares her fixation on things rubber. This, the reader is reminded, is in the days before the World Wide Web. Fortune changes, as it often does, while on vacation. Lounging beside a motel swimming pool, Ursula spots Adrian, an effeminate man sporting black latex trunks. The die is cast when he dons a tight fitting rubber bathing cap. Let the fun begin!

Glassco placed Fetish Girl with Harriet Marwood, Governess as his favourite piece of writing, in part due to ease of composition. However, as publication approached, he struggled with the dedication. Glassco's desire was to pay tribute to his new love Marion McCormick, who would become his second wife, but he knew that she would not appreciate having her name associated with a work of pornography. In the end, the pornographer dedicated the book to himself, because, as he wrote friend Leon Edel, "I am getting on in years and no one ever dedicated a book to me."

Where twelve years earlier he'd hidden his authorship of The English Governess, Glassco was quite open about Fetish Girl. He looked forward to its publication, touting it as the very first rubber fetish novel. I don't doubt that he believed this to be the truth. In fact, he'd already lost the race to Paul Hugo Little who, as "Lana Preston", had had his book Rubber Goddess published in 1967 by Cleveland's Corsair Books.

Fetish Girl was published in 1972 by Venus Library, an imprint of Grove Press. Glassco hated the thing before he ever set eyes on it, complaining to a confidant: "A friend in New York tells me it has a rather stupid illustrated cover of a girl in wet clothes coming out of the ocean – which is not what the book is about at all!"

Still, his irritation didn't prevent his keeping copies, one of which is inscribed in his hand: "And once again to Buffy from Sylvia".

The novel was reissued in 2001 by Blue Moon – sadly, without the dedication. It's currently available from olympiapress.com one of four Glassco works it offers without the permission of his estate.

Shameful, really.

Originally published in a much different form at The Dusty Bookcase.

15 June 2011

The Squire Hardman Hoax: Naughtiness Abounds

Squire Hardman ranks as John Glassco's most accomplished, audacious and outrageous hoax. It's also by far the least common of his books – fifty copies – which pretty much explains why it has received so little attention. Infamous, yet unknown, like the very best literary hoaxes the work's history is as complex as it is entertaining.

Though 1320-lines, Squire Hardman is one of the very few poems that Glassco wrote with any ease – but then, he rarely struggled when writing pornography. His inspiration was The Rodiad, a flagellantine fantasy in verse that is ascribed erroneously to the nearly-forgotten English playwright George Coleman the Younger. Glassco's Squire Hardman is similar in style and theme, though it does depart in one important manner; where in The Rodiad the flagellator is a man, the hand wielding the whip in Squire Hardman belongs to a woman. Here Glassco's own fantasies and desires hold sway.

Squire Hardman would be Glassco's only self-published book. In 1966, fourteen years after composition, he hired a printer in Waterloo, Quebec to produce the fifty, along with a handbill offering the book at ten dollars, postage-paid. This advertisement, describing Squire Hardman as “unquestionably the most brilliant flagellantine poem ever written", was subsequently mailed to academic institutions in Canada and the United States.

As he had in composing the poem, Glassco went to great lengths to mimic the early nineteenth-century style that had been employed in The Rodiad, right down to the title page. He was justifiably proud, writing poet Daryl Hine: “The introduction is in my best dated and documented style of Hoaxery; the nice title-page, decorations, layout are all mine too; I even stuck the labels on the covers."

Central to the hoax was a five-page Introduction, written by Glassco, in which he discusses Colman while comparing and contrasting The Rodiad and Squire Hardman:
The truth is that the two poems can be ascribed to Colman on the basis of internal evidence alone; and strong as this is, it is not really conclusive. All that can be affirmed with certainty is that both poems are by the same hand, and that their brilliance cannot lower the reputation of a writer who usually compounded coarseness with the graver faults of hypocrisy and dullness – from both of which these two poems are at any rate free.
In this mischievous bit of prose, Glassco feigns wonder that The Rodiad has been "reprinted many times”, while its "companion piece", Squire Hardman has been all but ignored. The hoaxter himself considered reprinting, even going so far as to commission illustrations from Philip Core (then a 15-year-old schoolboy). However, the idea was abandoned and the artwork was relegated to a brown paper envelope. A Gentleman of Pleasure features one of Core's previously unpublished illustrations.

Fifteen copies are held by libraries in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. The remaining 35 are, presumably, in private hands. My copy was purchased twenty-two years ago for US$100 from a New York bookseller – I've not seen a single copy for sale since.

Though Squire Hardman has never been reprinted on its own, the poem is currently available alongside The Rodiad, "Punishment Day", "I Never Saw Her Coming" and "The Nursery Tea" in an anthology titled Punitive Poetry. The publisher, AKS Books of Bexhill-on-Sea, Essex, also sells Glassco's other flagellantine classic The English Governess. Both are published without the permission of the author's estate. Very naughty.

Cross-posted – with minor variations – at The Dusty Bookcase.

08 June 2011

'This is the story of two Montrealers...'

So begins a very fine piece about me, John Glassco and the biography in today's St Marys Journal Argus, our town's newspaper. Written by Chet Greason, it can be found here.

06 June 2011

Bruce Whiteman in TriQuarterly Online

Glassco characterized himself in 1934 as a “trifler, dilettante, petit-maître,” and although Busby takes issue with that self-appraisal, I think Glassco was essentially right. There is nothing wrong, after all, with being a Kleinmeister. Many writers, painters, and composers whom we value were exactly that. The history of the arts would be much the poorer without the work of Aloysius Bertrand, Ernest Chausson, and Henri Rivière, just to name three of the nineteenth-century French minor masters. By virtue of one imperishable book, some good poetry, and some excellent translations, not to mention his many famous friends and acquaintances, Glassco deserves a biographer as accomplished as Busby and a book as compellingly readable as A Gentleman of Pleasure. This is Busby’s first foray into literary biography, and he has done his homework exceedingly well. He took great pains to trace archival material, not just in the obvious places (the Glassco papers themselves), but also in more obscure corners of the archival world. Pornography is legendarily a complicated bibliographical subject, and Busby has navigated its unsettled waters with aplomb. The portrait he draws, based on solid research, is detailed and lively, even if in the end one feels that his subject is not one with whom someone would ever have wanted to live.
The entire review is found here.

01 June 2011

James Martin in McGill News

On its way to alumni, but not yet available online and now available online. An excerpt:
As this book's subtitle makes clear, Glassco dabbled in many literary forms (with varying degrees of success – the more he wrote about spanking, it seems, the better his sales), but he truly excelled at self-mythology. His Memoirs of Montparnasse (1970), much-praised for its truthful evocation of an epoch, is now recognized as a grossly fanciful exaggeration of his youthful European adventures. Brian Busby earns full marks – not just for being crazy enough to play Boswell to a compulsive liar prone to destroying his personal correspondence – but for having the skill (and research chops) to sculpt fibs and embellishments into an eminently readable portrait of a writer whose greatest creation, ultimately, was his own life.