by George J. Dance

John Glassco

John Glassco (1909-1981). Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada.

John Glassco
Born John Stinson Glassco
December 19, 1909
Montreal, Quebec
Died January 29, 1981 (age 71)
Montreal, Quebec
Occupation writer
Nationality Canada Canadian
Alma mater University of Montreal
Literary movement Montreal Group
Notable work(s) Memories of Montparnasse (1970), Selected Poems (1971)
Notable award(s) Governor General's Award

John Stinson Glassco (December 19, 1909 - January 29, 1981) was a Canadian poet, memoirist, and translator. "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 pornography.


Born in Montreal to a well-off merchant family, 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 became part of the Montreal Group of poets centred on that campus, which included F.R. Scott and A.J.M. Smith. Glassco wrote for and co-edited the McGill Fortnightly Review with Scott, Smith, and Leon Edel.[3]

Glassco left McGill without graduating, and went to Paris with his friend, Graeme Taylor, when he was 18 years old.[4] The 2 settled in the Montparnasse district of Paris, which was then extremely popular amongst the literary intelligentsia.

Their 3-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.[5] In it, he describes meeting various celebrities who were living in or passing through Paris at the time, such as Robert McAlmon, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Ford Madox Ford. 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."[6][7]

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, 1952-1954.[2]



Glassco went on to earn a strong reputation as a poet.

"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.[8] He also translated the work of 3 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,[9] and Glassco continued the hoax by claiming that his own poem was a republication of an 18th-century original by Colman.[10] 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".[11][12] Glassco also used the pseudonym "Sylvia Bayer"[11] to publish Fetish Girl,[13] on the theme of rubber fetishism.[14][15] He wrote The English Governess (Ophelia Press, 1960) and Harriet Marwood, Governess (1967)[16] under yet another pseudonym, "Miles Underwood".[17] Glassco also completed the unfinished pornographic novel Under the Hill by Aubrey Beardsley,[18] in an edition published by the Olympia Press in 1959.[19]


Glassco's Selected Poems won Canada's top honor for poetry, the Governor General's Award for English language poetry or drama , in 1971.[20]

Glassco's translation of the Complete Poems of Hector de Saint-Denys Garneaw won the Canada Council Award for translation in 1975.[21]




  • Memoirs of Montparnasse, (introduction by Leon Edel), Toronto & New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.
    • (introduction by Louis Begley), New York: New York Review of Books, 2007.


  • Under the Hill; or, The story of Venus and Tannhauser. (illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley). Paris: Olympia, 1959; New York: Grove Press, 1967.
  • The English Governess. (as "Miles Underwood)." Paris, 1960; New York: Masquerade, 1990; (as John Glassco), Kemptville, ON: Golden Dog, 2000
    • also published as Under the Birch: The story of an English governess. Paris: Ophelia Press, 1965.
    • also published as The Governess. Covina, CA: Collectors Publications, 1967.
    • also published as The Authentic Confessions of Harriet Marwood, an English Governess. New York: Bee Line Books, 1967.
    • also published as Harriet Marwood, Governess. New York: Grove Press, 1968; Don Mills, ON: General Publishing, 1976.
  • Squire Hardman (long poem; as "George Colman"). Pastime Press, 1966.
  • The Temple of Pederasty (as "Ihara Saikaku, translated by Hideki Okada"). North Hollywood, CA: Hanover House, 1970.
  • Fetish Girl (as "Sylvia Bayer"). New York: Venus Library, 1972.
  • The Fatal Woman: Three tales. Toronto: Anansi, 1974.


  • Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, The Journal of Saint-Denys Garneau (introduction by Gilles Marcotte). Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1962.
  • Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, Complete Poems of Saint-Denys Garneau. Ottawa: Oberon, 1975.
  • Jean-Charles Harvey, Fear's Folly (Les demi-civilies). Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1982.


  • English Poetry in Quebec: Proceedings. Montreal: McGill University Press, 1965.
  • The Poetry of French Canada in Translation. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970. w


  • The Heart Accepts It All: Selected letters (edited by Brian Busby). Montreal: Vehicule Press, 2013.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[22]

See alsoEdit

John Glassco. The Death of Don Quixote

John Glassco. The Death of Don Quixote.


  • Hammill, Faye (2009). "John Glassco, Canadian erotica and the 'Lying Chronicle'". In Anctil, Pierre; Loiselle, Andre; Rolfe, Christopher. Canada Exposed. Canadian Studies. 20. Peter Lang. pp. 279-296. ISBN 9052015481. 
  • Sutherland, Fraser (1984). John Glassco, an essay and bibliography. ECW Press. ISBN 0920802788. 


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Stephen Scobie, "Glassco, John", Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 906.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "John Glassco", Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, Web, Mar. 22, 2011.
  3. Dean Irvine, "Montreal Group," Encyclopedia of Canadian History, Web, Mar. 15, 2011.
  4. Stephen Scobie (revised by Brian Busby), John Glassco," Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Institute. Web, Feb. 22, 2013.
  5. 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.
  6. "A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer", Brian Busby, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011
  7. Open Book: A Gentleman of Pleasure, by Brian Busby
  8. Agnes Whitfield, Writing Between the Lines: portraits of Canadian anglophone translators, Wilfred Laurier U. Press, 2006, 44. Google Books, Web, Jan. 29, 2011.
  9. Knight, George Wilson (1971). Neglected powers: essays on nineteenth and twentieth century literature. Routledge. p. 129. ISBN 0710066813. 
  10. Hammill (2009) p.286
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hamill (2009) p.288
  12. Godbout, Patricia (Automne 2004). "Pseudonymes, traductionymes et pseudo-traductions". Voix et Images 30 (1): 93-103. 
  13. 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 0773526625. 
  14. Sutherland, Fraser (1983). "Sylvia Bayer and the Search for Rubber". Canadian Poetry 13: 86-91. 
  15. Sutherland (1984) p.36
  16. Lecaros, Cecilia Wadsö (2001). The Victorian governess novel. Lund studies in English. 100. Lund University Press. p. 280. ISBN 9179665772. 
  17. Sutherland (1984) pp.34, 52-53
  18. Sutton, Emma (2002). Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s. Oxford University Press. p. 143. ISBN 0198187327. 
  19. Prickett, Stephen (2005). Victorian fantasy. Baylor University Press. pp. 104-107, 249. ISBN 1932792309. 
  20. The Canada Council for the Arts - Governor General's Literary Awards
  21. Brian Busby, "October 1st", The Dusty Bookcase, Oct. 1, 2010. Web, Jan. 28, 2011.
  22. Search results = au:John Glassco, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 27, 2014.

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