The first biography of Canada's most enigmatic literary figure, a self-described "great practitioner of deceit."
John Glassco (1909-1981) holds a unique position in Canadian letters and a somewhat notorious reputation throughout the world. He is best known for his Memoirs of Montparnasse, the controversial chronicle of his youthful adventures and encounters with celebrities in the Paris of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway. Less known are his poetry, his instrumental role in the foundation of modern translation, and his numerous - and widely popular - works of pornography.
A Gentleman of Pleasure not only spans Glassco's life but delves into his background as a member of a once prominent and powerful Montreal family. In addition to Glassco's readily available work, Brian Busby draws on pseudonymous writings published as a McGill student as well as unpublished and previously unknown poems, letters, and journal entries to detail a vibrant life while pulling back the curtain on Glassco's sexuality and unconventional tastes.
In a lively account of a man given to deception, who took delight in hoaxes, Busby manages to substantiate many of the often unreliable statements Glassco made about his life and work. A Gentleman of Pleasure is a remarkable biography that captures the knowable truth about a fascinatingly complex and secretive man.
408 Pages, 6.5 x 9.5
Formats: Cloth, eBook
"It is probably the best literary biography ever to appear in Canada" Fraser Sutherland, Open Book Toronto
"...scrupulous and often amusing biography..." Stephan Henighan, The Walrus
"I am left with an appreciation for the man and artist, and a desire to read his "memoirs," I can only attribute it to Busby's tact and humanity as a biographer...Whatever their opinion on Glassco, students of Canadian literature should enjoy this book ." Anne Chudobiak, The Montreal Gazette
"Black-leather dandy, and elegant, martini-sipping beat, John Glassco was a one-man, literary underground. Impeccable in style and provocative in intent, his pornography is poetic, his poetry is arty, but all his writing has the precision and grace of beautiful lies. Yet, his genius has gone too long unheralded and unsung in his native land. Bravo to Brian Busby, then, whose exhaustively researched, exquisitely written, and endlessly interesting biography reveals Glassco's vivid complexity, intricate deceptions, and the convoluted genesis of his deathless triumphs in memoir, translation, lyric, and, yes, his odes to the joys of womanly sadism and boyish masochism. Busby gives us a detailed portrait of a grand bon vivant and a singular intellectual, who was likely English Canada's most gifted, truly radical writer." George Elliott Clarke, Department of English, University of Toronto
"Original and richly detailed, A Gentleman of Pleasure gives John Glassco the audience he deserves." Andrew Lesk, University of Toronto
"In his own elegant prose and with a profound appreciation of his subject's life and work, Brian Busby introduces us to the life, the times, and the writings of a man who was not merely a gentleman of letters and pleasure but also a fabulist of the first order. Busby's treatment and analysis of Glassco's best-known work, the controversial Memoirs of Montparnasse, should lay to rest any questions still surrounding its composition. Read this book too for an exceptional and intimate gaze into the life and times of a pioneering translator of Franco-Québécois writers into English; an award-winning poet; and a noteworthy author of literary pornography. All combine quite comfortably to make A Gentleman of Pleasure a tremendously good and satisfying read." Sheila Fischman, literary translator
"A good treatment of a fascinating and complex figure that reads effortlessly." David Staines, University of Ottawa
"...thoroughly researched, engaging, and elegantly written book." Stephen J. Gertz, Booktryst
"Glassco deserves a biographer as accomplished as Busby and a book as compellingly readable as A Gentleman of Pleasure. [Busby] 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." Bruce Whiteman, TriQuarterly Online
"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." James Martin, McGill News
"Busby, (an independent literary historian and the author of Character Parts: Who's Really Who in CanLit, 2003), successfully unearths Glassco's story with the goal of 'correct[ing] the many varied misconceptions and misunderstandings about his life.' Busby based his work on numerous primary documents, including personal correspondence and diaries. No other work matches this one for comprehensiveness: Busby's research is meticulous and impressive, and he provides valuable, often corrective, information about Glassco." Choice
"A Gentleman of Pleasure is a thorough and thoroughly entertaining study of Canada's foremost literary charlatan ..." Daniel Francis, GEIST
"Both entertaining and scholarly, this is, surprisingly, the first biography of this eccentric writer." Faye Hammill, Times Higher Education
"[Busby] proves himself most sympathetic as he goes about revivifying a complex and (in this instance) highly conflicted individual consciousness, which is what serious biographers aspire to do." George Fetherling, Canadian Notes & Queries
"Alongside the quest for pleasures and their undersides, there is a formidable search throughout Glassco’s life that Busby identifies and traces for the reader: that of the troubled relation between memoirs and memory, living and telling, the truth of an instant, and the requirements of narration. Almost as soon as he arrived in Paris with Graeme Taylor at the end of the twenties, Glassco started to memorialize and fictionalize his own movable feast. Thus, the biographer’s endeavour consisted not so much in trying to separate fact from fiction as in tracking how Glassco constantly blurred the lines between them." Canadian Literature
"Happily, Busby’s biography is meticulously researched and catches many questionable details and variant accounts of events while never losing sight of the overarching structure of his subject’s project as an author.That’s no small strength when the project includes much playful self-mythologizing, because, however charming Glassco’s delight in fabulation and light touch with mere fact may be, it complicates things for biographers." Peter Dubé, Montreal Review of Books
"It's probably the best literary biography ever to appear in Canada." Fraser Sutherland, author of The Philosophy of As if
Brian Busby is an independent scholar and the author of several books, including Character Parts: Who's Really Who in CanLit.
Table of Contents
ONE 1909-1928 8
TWO 1928-1931 43
THREE 1931-1938 79
FOUR 1938-1947 101
FIVE 1948-1957 127
SIX 1957-1961 148
SEVEN 1961-1966 173
EIGHT 1967-1969 207
NINE 1970-1973 227
TEN 1973-1981 268
Appendix: “Extract from an Autobiography” 301
Gabrielle Roy Prize
Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures (2011)