Monday, February 10, 2014

Brian Busby's A Gentleman of Pleasure, and The Heart Accepts It All

The first book listed in the blog title is Brian Busby’s biography of John Glassco, the second a Selected Letters of the same Quebec writer.

Busby is an indefatigable investigator and compiler of Glassco’s life and work. His findings, in A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco – Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer, were made more difficult by his subject’s mischievous lies and diversions, as well as Glassco’s discretion, which caused the late writer to delete and burn material which would be likely to compromise him personally in some way. It’s especially understandable he’d protect himself from puritanical condemnation since a darker element of this often-experienced (among writers) story concerns laws prosecuting homosexual behaviour during the years of Glassco’s sexual awakening. But I was surprised to learn that Glassco’s caution was also sparked by a concern for others condemned, in ignorant and stupidly judgemental hearsay, for the writer’s lifestyle by association. Surprised, because Glassco comes across as a self-regarding pleasure hound, one unabashedly in pursuit of the sexual conquest, the next drink, the slot of endless days bathed in diversion and aesthetic enjoyment, whether of sights and sounds, or the words – in writing or reading – that would honour them.

The especial joy, though, arrives in The Heart Accepts It All, Selected Letters of John Glassco, where Busby edits a pruned but revelatory archive of personal correspondence which captures Glassco in a wide variety of moods and subjects. I was particularly delighted to learn of Glassco’s brilliantly perceptive off-the-cuff criticism of contemporary writers and books. (It shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise, however, since his Memoirs of Montparnasse displayed  wise and lively arguments during the dialogic disquisitions in that book.) D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover gets raked over the coals for the English novelist’s “projection of himself into a woman; his real love-object is Mellors”. Now, I don’t agree with it, but his case, made with more development than I’d care to type out here, is nevertheless forceful and (to my mind) original.

Busby strikes a judicious and respectful balance between adoration of his subject, and wart-exposure. And it’s a difficult task because the complexity of the excellent, unfashionable, oft-overlooked writer offers no easy answers, or even thematic lines. At once selfish and compassionate, a connoisseur and decadent, Glassco demands exploration from many angles, and these letters (and the biography which sets the table) afford the reader a chance to appreciate the subject through searing wisdom, heartbreaking loss, and humbling experience.

No comments: