John Glassco

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John Glassco
BornDecember 15, 1909
Montreal, Quebec
DiedJanuary 29, 1981 (age 71)
Genrepoetry, memoirs
Literary movementMontreal Group
Notable worksMemoirs of Montparnasse, Selected Poems (1971)
Notable awardsGovernor General's Award

John Glassco (December 15, 1909 – January 29, 1981) was a Canadian poet, memoirist and novelist. According to Stephen Scobie, "Glassco will be remembered for his brilliant autobiography, his elegant, classical poems, and for his translations."[1] He is also remembered by some for his erotica.


Born in Montreal to a monied family, John Glassco (Buffy to his friends) was educated at Selwyn House School, Bishop's College School, Lower Canada College, and finally McGill University.[2] At McGill he moved on the fringes of the Montreal Group of poets centred on that campus, which included F. R. Scott and A.J.M. Smith. Glassco wrote for the McGill Fortnightly Review with Scott, Smith, and Leon Edel.[citation needed]

Glassco left McGill without graduating to go to Paris with his friend, Graeme Taylor, when he was 17 years old. The two settled in the Montparnasse district of Paris which was then extremely popular amongst the literary intelligentsia. Their three-year stay formed the basis of Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse (1970), a description of expatriate life in Paris during the 1920s.[1]

The book is presented as a genuine memoir, although Glassco had lightly fictionalized some aspects of the work.[3] In it, he describes meeting various celebrities who were living in or passing through Paris at the time, such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Ford Madox Ford, Frank Harris, Lord Alfred Douglas and others. In the notes to the republished edition in 2007 further characters are identified as thinly disguised descriptions of Man Ray, Peggy Guggenheim and others.

Glassco, a bisexual, was, in the words of Leon Edel, "a bit frightened by certain kinds of women and nearly always delighted if he could establish a triangle."[4][5]

In 1931 Glassco contracted tuberculosis. He returned to Canada and was hospitalized. In 1935, after having a lung removed, he retired to the town of Foster in Quebec's Eastern Townships. He served as mayor of Foster from 1952 to 1954.[2]



Glassco went on to earn a strong reputation as a poet. His Selected Poems won Canada's top honour for poetry, the Governor General's Award, in 1971.[6] The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature says of his poetry:

Glassco's poems — unlike his prose — are largely concerned with ... life in the Eastern Townships ... full of images of derelict farmhouses and decaying roads that peter out in the bush; but reflections on the human condition are never far away from the descriptions of the countryside, so that the life of the land and the lives of people are woven together.... But not all Glassco's poems are bucolic. Some provide a link with his prose by moving into the mythology of literature and history: 'The death of Don Quixote' and 'Brummel at Calais' show Glassco as a master of echoes, and of parody and pastiche in the best sense; they evoke the philosophy of the nineteenth-century dandy and decadent (Brummel, Baudelaire, Wilde) that is also evident in his prose writings."[2]


Glassco translated both poetry and fiction from French. He edited the 1970 anthology The Poetry of French Canada in Translation, in which he personally translated texts by 37 different poets.[7] He also translated the work of three French-Canadian novelists: Monique Bosco (Lot's wife / La femme de Loth, 1975) Jean-Yves Soucy (Creature of the chase / Un dieu chasseur, 1979), and Jean-Charles Harvey (Fear's folly / Les demi-civilisés, 1982).[2]

The Canadian Encyclopedia says that Glassco's "translations of French Canadian poetry are, along with F. R. Scott's, the finest yet to appear — his greatest achievement being the Complete Poems of Saint-Denys-Garneau (1975)."[1]

Glassco also edited the 1965 anthology English poetry in Quebec, which originated from a poetry conference held in Foster in 1963.[2]


Glassco's long poem Squire Hardman, on the subject of flagellation, was privately printed in 1967. The poem was inspired by The Rodiad (1871), falsely ascribed to George Colman the Younger,[8] and Glassco continued the hoax by claiming that his own poem was a republication of an 18th-century original by Colman.[9] Glassco's The Temple of Pederasty, on the theme of sado-masochism and male homosexuality, was similarly ascribed to Ihara Saikaku with "translation" by the wholly fictitious "Hideki Okada".[10][11] Glassco also used the pseudonym "Sylvia Bayer"[10] to publish Fetish Girl,[12] on the theme of rubber fetishism.[13][14] He wrote The English Governess (Ophelia Press, 1960) and Harriet Marwood, Governess (1967)[15] under yet another pseudonym, "Miles Underwood".[16] Glassco completed the unfinished pornographic novel Under the Hill by Aubrey Beardsley,[17] in an edition published by the Olympia Press in 1959.[18]




  • Memoirs of Montparnasse, Leon Edel intr. Toronto, New York: Oxford UP, 1970.[20] Louis Begley intr. New York: New York Review Books Classics, 2007 ISBN 978-1-59017-184-4


  • and Aubrey Beardsley. Under the Hill; or the story of Venus and Tannhauser. Paris: Olympia, 1959.[20]
  • The English Governess. as "Miles Underwood." Paris: Ophelia, 1960.
  • Harriet Marwood, Governess. New York: Grove P, 1968.[20]
  • Fetish Girl. New York: Venus Library, 1971.
  • The Fatal Woman: Three Tales. Toronto: Anansi, 1974.[20]


  • Complete Poems of Saint-Denys Garneau. Ottawa: Oberon, 1975.[20]


  • English Poetry in Quebec, 1965.
  • Poetry of French Canada in Translation. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1970.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Stephen Scobie, "Glassco, John Archived 2011-08-06 at the Wayback Machine", Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 906.
  2. ^ a b c d e "John Glassco", Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, Web, March 22, 2011.
  3. ^ A full discussion of the relationship between fact and fiction in the book is offered by Louis Begley in his introduction to the 2007 NYRB edition.
  4. ^ "A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer", Brian Busby, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011
  5. ^ Open Book: A Gentleman of Pleasure, by Brian Busby
  6. ^ The Canada Council for the Arts – Governor General's Literary Awards Archived 2010-02-11 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Agnes Whitfield, Writing Between the Lines: portraits of Canadian anglophone translators, Wilfrid Laurier U. Press, 2006, 44. Google Books, Web, January 29, 2011.
  8. ^ Knight, George Wilson (1971). Neglected powers: essays on nineteenth and twentieth century literature. Routledge. p. 129. ISBN 0-7100-6681-3.
  9. ^ Hammill (2009) p.286
  10. ^ a b Hamill (2009) p.288
  11. ^ Godbout, Patricia (2004). "Pseudonymes, traductionymes et pseudo-traductions". Voix et Images. 30 (1): 93–103. doi:10.7202/009891ar. S2CID 161971124.
  12. ^ Ostry, Bernard; Yalden, Janice (2004). Visions of Canada: the Alan B. Plaunt memorial lectures, 1958-1992. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. pp. 310–311. ISBN 0-7735-2662-5.
  13. ^ Sutherland, Fraser (1983). "Sylvia Bayer and the Search for Rubber". Canadian Poetry. 13: 86–91.
  14. ^ Sutherland (1984) p.36
  15. ^ Lecaros, Cecilia Wadsö (2001). The Victorian governess novel. Lund studies in English. Vol. 100. Lund University Press. p. 280. ISBN 91-7966-577-2.
  16. ^ Sutherland (1984) pp.34, 52-53
  17. ^ Sutton, Emma (2002). Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s. Oxford University Press. p. 143. ISBN 0-19-818732-7.
  18. ^ Prickett, Stephen (2005). Victorian fantasy. Baylor University Press. pp. 104–107, 249. ISBN 1-932792-30-9.
  19. ^ "Ouvrages soumis au Grand prix littéraire". La Presse: 43. March 3, 1965.
  20. ^ a b c d e f Search results: John Glassco, Open Library, Web, May 9, 2011.


  • Aldrich, Robert; Wotherspoon, Garry (2003). Who's who in gay and lesbian history: from antiquity to World War II (2nd ed.). Routledge. pp. 215–216. ISBN 0-415-15983-0.
  • Hammill, Faye (2009). "John Glassco, Canadian erotica and the 'Lying Chronicle'". In Anctil, Pierre; Loiselle, Andre; Rolfe, Christopher (eds.). Canada exposed. Canadian Studies. Vol. 20. Peter Lang. pp. 279–296. ISBN 978-90-5201-548-4.
  • Sutherland, Fraser (1984). John Glassco, an essay and bibliography. ECW Press. ISBN 0-920802-78-8.

External links[edit]