A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer

by Brian Busby

After dropping out of McGill, frustrated poet John “Buffy” Glassco (1909-1981) left the well-feathered family nest to flit around Europe, where he rubbed shoulders (and possibly more) with a who’s-who of the ex-pat arts scene. He shot the breeze with Man Ray. He got an earful of scorn from Gertrude Stein (for championing Jane Austen). He drank with Joyce, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. He watched porn with Peggy Guggenheim. Most of those things, however, never happened. Glassco’s Parisian adventures may have provided source material for more successful writers’ fiction (a not-so-flattering version of him populates Morley Callaghan’s “Now That April’s Here”), but he proved to be his own greatest muse.

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.

James Martin, MLIS’05