Memoirs of Montparnasse: a Reflection of Myself

By Thomas E. Tausky

"An accomplished liar": so John Glassco describes himself in an early chapter of Memoirs of Montparnasse.1  In this essay, the implications for the Memoirs itself of this candid self-assessment are examined through a detailed comparison between the final text and the manuscript.2  The evidence supplied by the manuscript not only necessitates reinterpretation of Glassco's aims as an autobiographer, but also makes it possible to use his work as a text by means of which to explore the wider theoretical issues raised by the presence of fiction in autobiography.

     It would be ungenerous not to acknowledge the shrewd suspicions about the factuality of the Memoirs expressed by scholars relying exclusively on the final text.  In his biography of Robert McAlmon, Sanford J. Smoller uses the Memoirs extensively, but points out its factual errors and fictional methods.3   John Lauber has shown that a comparison between the first chapter of the Memoirs and the first publication of the same material in This Quarter (1928) reveals Glassco undertaking substantial revision, despite claims to the contrary in his "Prefatory Note."4   Michael Gnarowski, a friend of Glassco at the time the Memoirs were being written, lists the work as "prose fiction" in his A Concise Bibliography of English-Canadian Literature.5   In an article found elsewhere in the present collection, Stephen Scobie notes the inaccuracies first spotted by Smoller, and comments: "only the most unsophisticated readers would seriously take the Memoirs as a factually accurate record."6


If much of the underlying character of Glassco's work has already been grasped, a visitor to the Public Archives will still be in for a fairly major surprise if he takes to looking at the contents of Box M.G. 30, D 163 with any attention.  In the final stages of publication, the Memoirs do not contradict Glassco's assertions, that the book was written "in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal during three months of the winter of 1932-3," and that "I have changed very little of the original" (MOM, xlii).  The author's advance copy contains only a few identifications made by Glassco of persons whose names are disguised in the book; the proofs show no sign of major revision.  Yet the six scribblers (cf. MOM, 27) and separate sheets which clearly mark the earliest stage-of composition tell a far different story.  The main text ends with the statement "first draft finished Sept. 8, 1934, 4 a.m." but the "3" of 1934 has been written over a "6."7  The first authentic date given in the manuscript is January 21, 1964, by which time Glassco had reached what is p. 108 in the published version.  Thanks to Glassco's help in supplying dates, some idea of the chronology of the manuscript's composition may be formed.8   The consistent method revealed by the manuscript is that of a skilful professional writer engaged in a wholly creative task.  We see embryonic early plans gradually developing and expanding; many brief notes that serve as the basis for characterization or plot; outlines for individual chapters that are followed on the whole, but sometimes modified in major or minor ways; constant stylistic revision; whole scenes that are either drastically altered or dropped entirely in the published version; a large number of inserts; the evidence of a dogged nightly ritual involving the writing of several hundred words at a sitting that are then carefully added up.

      Though the manuscript version was completed in 1964, the final text did not appear in its entirety until 1970.9  Between 1965 and 1969, Glassco went through a phase of rejecting the Memoirs.  His reasons are explained in the entry dated June 2, 1965 in his Personal Journal 1965-1969, a restricted portion of the Glassco Papers.  (I am grateful to William Toye, Glassco's literary executor, for permitting me to read this entry, and to quote from it.)   Because of the great interest this document holds as a revelation of Glassco's creative personality, it is quoted at considerable length:

. . . . Two days later the book on which I had spent over a year, my "Memoirs of Montparnasse," a thing written "to" a wide public, 300 pages of what I had thought was the gayest, most amusing most readable writing the world could ask for, was returned by my New York agent as "not likely to be of interest to a publisher."  The force of this rejection was multiplied beyond endurance by the fact that the book was a reflection of myself, my whole youth, the Paris I loved & the period when I'd been happy.  I could hardly believe it: for three days I was numbed.  I kept torturing myself by recalling the parts of it I had thought were so good, & putting them in apposition to the cruellest phrases of Wing's letter (no; it was not even Wing himself, it was a junior partner in the firm!), that it seemed "non-persuasive" (i.e. unconvincing, i.e. mendacious), and that the "exposé element was unaffecting."  So much for telling the truth! in the form of fiction! [previous five words crossed out] Then, I did not even dare look at the returned manuscript: it had been termed a lying chronicle, and with my own wretched suggestibility, I would soon have believed the term was correct and that people and things did not happen as I knew they did.  — No, not altogether as they did: I have re-arranged many events, telescoped still more, & invented much of the dialogue — but the facts are all true, & the tenor of the life in those days, and the behaviour of everybody, faithfully reproduced.

      — Now, why have I been defending this wretched book so stiffly? Admit it: you were trying to write a "popular" book, a book to make money, you wanted to cash in on the 'twenties.  And you just weren't competent, you simply produced a piece of cheap, frivolous, backstairs gossip, a false, vulgar, conceited, adolescent, amateurish book.  You deserved this rejection.  More, this aspect of yourself deserved to be kicked.  You should be happy no one saw it but an agent who doesn't know you from Adam. . .

     Thus, I console myself.  My old motto in moments of rejection & despair: it may be all for the best.  Had it been published I would have been called a liar, a popinjay, a faker, a libeller, an envious failure: I might have lost what little self-respect I have.

     These assertions that the grapes were sour were, after all, true.  I had a lucky escape.

     And now it is time to confess [previous word crossed out] state, in this privacy of myself, that one-quarter of this book was lies.  This is what I have been trying to avoid saying, even to myself.  I never met Frank Harris (it was Graeme who did, & told me about it later); Man Ray never discussed Jane Austen with me; Joyce held no conversation with me about Ulysses or "Gob" (he did attack Richardson); Ford's conversation is more than half fabricated. . . Ah, confession is good for the soul.  Already, I feel better.10

In this passage, the state of emotional shock induced by the agent's criticism is compounded by what Glassco himself calls his "wretched suggestibility."  The agent's comments acted as a catalyst in precipitating a series of painful reflections about the issue of truth and mendacity.  Glassco's responses move in the general direction of increasing candour, though even in the beginning he concedes, before thinking better of it, that he is writing truth in the form of fiction.  The agent's role in provoking Glassco's anguish is not entirely clear.  The criticisms directly quoted ("non-persuasive"; "unaffecting") are more likely conventional, if negative, judgments of literary merit than direct accusations of lying.  Glassco's paraphrase — "it had been termed a lying chronicle" — may have been an over-reaction rather than an accurate summary, since a Reply Churlish of this order is surprising in the letter of a literary agent to his client.  The phrase "lying chronicle" was to have a long history: it re-appears as part of the first line of a poem Glassco composed for an inscribed copy of the Memoirs some years later.11

      Glassco's hypercritical attitude towards the Memoirs persists in two other testimonies of the same year, a letter to Michael Gnarowski dated October 25th, and a single-page "Note," the hand-written version of which is dated November 16th.  His thoughts returned to the manuscript in 1967, after he had embarked upon an extended and often touching exchange of letters with Kay Boyle, the novelist and fellow exile.   Boyle at the time was working on her re-issue of Robert McAlmon's autobiography, Being Geniuses Together, and sought Glassco's help for her own supplementary chapters.  He sent her photographs and samples of his McAlmon dialogue, in conversation with and about Callaghan (as in MOM, 89-92) and about W.C. Williams (as in MOM, 223).  Boyle did not use these excerpts, but she did put Glassco in her book, both in her own chapters and in McAlmon's portion (she printed parts of McAlmon's manuscript that were edited out of the first edition of his autobiography, in which Glassco does not appear).

     Glassco was naturally heartened by the resumption of contact with his famous friend, and the news of her project no doubt played its part in the revival of his own work.  On Nov. 28, 1967, he informed her of the existence of the manuscript:

     I've given an account of some of this in my own memoirs of that era which I finished about 5 years ago but haven't got around to revising.  We're all in this book, rather glamourized and fictionalized; the chronology is a bit juggled, and the dialogue re-written, but I think it catches some of the spirit of those years.12

Though she expressed interest, he immediately backed off: "I've looked over my MEMOIRS OF MONTPARNASSE.  It's like a bad novel.  I might publish it under a pseudonymn, some day.  .  ."13  Using pseudonymns was, of course, Glassco's favourite literary strategy, but in this case the idea of the pseudonymn might have come to mind to serve a purpose that was perhaps part of the motivation behind the invention of the 1932 manuscript: to distance Glassco (in his estimate of himself, as well as the public judgments of others) from a work about which he continued to have strong reservations.  Glassco wrote four letters without mentioning the Memoirs again, but on September 9, 1968 he announced its completion (by which he means, presumably, revision of the 1964 manuscript).  Once more, the book is defined as fiction, but this time in more confident terms:

     I finished my MEMOIRS OF MONTPARNASSE last month.  100,000 words of my life from 1927 to 1931.  It has the form of fiction — i.e., with lots of dialogue, speed, re-arranged and telescoped action: never a dull moment — and is more a montage of those days than literal truth.

      In the June 2, 1965 journal entry, and in the letters to Boyle, Glassco raises the issue of the fictional component in the Memoirs in relation to three overlapping but separable elements of the book: his picture of "the spirit of those years"; his portraits of literary celebrities, and his self-portrait (the Memoirs as "a reflection of myself").  In what follows, I do not seek to evaluate the accuracy of Glassco's image of the Twenties.  Needless to say, the degree of direct fabrication is only one aspect of this complex issue — such other factors as the vantage point of the author, and his ability to observe and record are involved.  It could well be argued that Glassco's work is no more subjective and narrowly focused than the memoirs of Callaghan14 and Hemingway.  I shall be concerned, instead, with the evidence relating to Glassco's depiction of specific writers, of his emotional relationships, and of his own character.  In each of these contexts, a judgment about the balance of truth and fiction can be made with some confidence.

     Glassco's "confession" about invented conversations confirms what can be ascertained by comparing the manuscript and other portions of the Glassco Papers with the final text, and with external sources such as the autobiographies and biographies of his interlocutors.  For example, the view that expressions of joy are never attempted in modern English poetry, attributed to Ford Madox Ford (MOM, 36-37) comes from Glassco's own "A Book of Odds and Ends," a collection of epigrammatic statements dated 1960.  The speech in which André Breton elaborates the idea that "the law could not exist without the criminal" (MOM, 33) is also taken from the same source.15  The sketchiness of Glassco's plans for the scene in which he meets Joyce would in any case have cast doubt upon the accuracy with which he recalled whatever encounter he may have had with the great man.  A separate page of notes indicates that after the manuscript was finished, Glassco was still contemplating an alternative scene, a party on February 2, 1929 held at Joyce's Paris flat to celebrate the novelist's birthday (Glassco in reality was in Nice at the time).  This page shows Glassco gleaning anecdotal information, little of it used in the final text, from Richard Ellmann's biography of Joyce (1959).  A page of notes preceding the draft of the published scene reveals Glassco at work ekeing out a rather dim memory: "Meeting with Joyce (was it in the winter of 1929 or 1930?  Can't remember — make it '29.  Were he & Norah married then?  She wasn't there — was she in the hospital?  Doesn't matter [preceding two words crossed out] Think so — (say she was)" (6, 74).

     It is interesting, but not conclusive, that Glassco fails to include the interview granted by George Moore in the catalogue of his fabrications.  This is an important scene, since Moore is the first literary lion Glassco meets, and Moore's autobiographical works, particularly the Confessions of a Young Man, served as Glassco's literary model.16 Yet Glassco could not have met Moore at the time specified in the Memoirs.  The Canadian Traveller, the freighter on which Glassco crossed the Atlantic, left Saint John on February 4th (this date is given in the This Quarter excerpt, written in 1928, as well as in the Memoirs).  The voyage took "sixteen miserable days" (MOM, 10), and Glassco spent another night in London before calling on Moore, who, according to his servant, was "just out of the nursing 'ome" (MOM, 11).  In fact, Moore had entered the nursing home a week before, on February 14th (he was suffering from a severe case of uraemia) and did not leave it until April 21st.17  Perhaps Glassco went to Moore's flat, and was turned away by the servant.  In any event, he likely felt that a scene with Moore would strengthen the opening section of the Memoirs by defining the character of his literary pilgrimage, and so in all probability he simply imagined the scene.  He certainly invented Moore's opinion of Ulysses (MOM, 12): Moore did not begin to read that novel seriously until Joyce sent him a copy in the fall of the following year.18  Moore's clash with Sylvia Beach (MOM, 12) is possibly taken from That Summer in Paris.19  Since Callaghan attributes the story to McAlmon, Glassco may have got it second-hand from McAlmon, rather than third-hand from Callaghan.

     The portrait of Kay Boyle as "Diana Tree" is something of a special case.  In this instance, Glassco began with a character who at times bore Kay Boyle's name, though in the manuscript she is usually identified as "May Fry."  On Dec. 2, 1968, Glassco sent Boyle three extracts from the Memoirs, including the "Two Old Ladies" excerpt which was to appear in The Tamarack Review, No. 49.  In his accompanying letter, Glassco sought to explain the tricky question of his decision to fictionalize his relations with Boyle:

In short, our friendship has been blown up, glamourized and made intensely significant in the framework of the story itself.   (The events of the whole book have been re-arranged, telescoped, speeded up and dramatized in the same way.)  You see, we have long invented dialogues, do things we never did, go places we never went, etc.  It's really fiction: I was trying to re-create the atmosphere and spirit of the Paris of those days as it was for me.

In her reply, Boyle raised no objection to Glassco's romanticization; instead, she protested that the character bearing her name did not speak like her.  Feeling, erroneously, that Boyle was highly offended, Glassco chose to divorce his invention from its prototype entirely by giving the character a new name and other characteristics no one would identify with Boyle.  Glassco wrote William Toye, who was an associate editor of The Tamarack Review: "I would not like to offend an old friend like Kay Boyle . . . I simply cannot recall her actual words of 40 years ago, so this solution of ascribing them to someone else seems the best and simplest!"20  Boyle continued to insist, in vain, that she preferred a characterization more, rather than less, like herself.

     Boyle plays a prominent role, under both her names (MOM, 190), in a major episode of Glassco's book, the incident involving his work on the Princess of Sarawak's memoirs (MOM, 190-206).  At first sight, this part of Glassco's story seems far more exotic and implausible than, say, his trip to Luxembourg (MOM, 62-78).  Yet Glassco's work for the Princess is corroborated by Kay Boyle in her memoirs, whereas the Luxembourg excursion, in one important respect, is likely fictional.21  Indeed, Boyle gives Glassco more credit than he claims for himself.  In the Memoirs, Glassco claims to be merely a typist.  Boyle reports:

During the hours of work Buffy and I (at times incorporating suggestions made by McAlmon) inserted in the mouths of the long-dead great additional flights of repartee and far more brilliant bon mots than I had managed to invent alone.22

Glassco may have been reluctant to inform readers of the Memoirs that he was acquiring experience in the field of inventive autobiography at a tender age.  Nevertheless, the fact that he was doing so is extremely significant.  Boyle's version does conflict with Glassco's account in one important way: she claims that the Princess's need for some self-definition "had made a Catholic of her some months before" (i.e. before the summer of 1928).  If true, this statement casts in doubt the long episode in which Glassco assists in the stage-managing of the Princess's conversion (MOM, 196-201).  The confusing evidence of this question seems to point to the fading memories of the two aging autobiographers, rather than to any deliberate deception on Glassco's part.23

     There is no need to belabour the point that, as Glassco privately acknowledged, he had little interest in making his profiles of literary figures historically accurate.  The evidence about the fictionalization of Breton, Moore and Boyle must be added to Glassco's own admissions, in the journal entry, about Ford, Joyce, Frank Harris and Man Ray ("Narwhal" in the Memoirs; cf. MOM, p. 95).  What Glassco wrote to Boyle, in his Dec. 2, 1968 letter, applies to all his other efforts to invent literary history: his main aims are to glamourize and make intensely significant, and to concentrate on Paris "as it was for me."  The same motivations may be traced in the embroidered accounts of his friendships and love affairs.

     During the course of the Memoirs, Glassco meets a great many artistic types, and is plunged into a wide variety of situations.  Essentially, however, his serious relationships involve six individuals: Graeme Taylor, Robert McAlmon, "Diana Tree," "Daphne Berners," "Stanley Dahl" and, most dramatically, "Honour Quayle." By comparing the often very different manuscript versions of Glassco's intimacy with these persons to the accounts in the final text, we can see that for whatever reasons, Glassco in revising obscured the nature of individual liaisons.  That is not to say, however, that the manuscript invariably represents reality and the final text fiction; rather, the difference often seems to lie between crude fiction and polished fiction, or between self-dramatizing fiction and a fictional mask.

     There seems to be no doubt that the friendships Glassco had with both Taylor and McAlmon involved homosexual aspects.  Direct statements to this effect in the manuscript are frequently accompanied, curiously enough, by furious denunciations of the practice of homosexuality and the character of homosexuals.  In a passage immediately following the description of McAlmon (MOM, 52) the manuscript has McAlmon make a direct approach to Glassco.  This was "all too familiar: I had discovered a few years earlier that I had a curious and irresistible attraction for homsexuals" (2, 57).  Glassco continues:

Like most youths, I had of course already had a number of homosexual experiences, but they had been quite one-sided & I had found the practices, etc. stupid & inadequate, and the conjuctions highly uncomfortable: I was seldom approached a third or fourth time.  In other words, I was so utterly heterosexual, and had even so little revulsion towards the male organ that the sight of one in erection simply made me think of a hat-peg, & in repose of a hot dog. (2, 58)

Later in the Memoirs, McAlmon is said to have suggested the expedition to the Riviera — though this is contradicted in their book by both McAlmon and Boyle.  In any event, both Glassco and Taylor are described as famished during the train journey, and Taylor leaves the train at its Avignon stop to remedy the situation (MOM, 112).  Very little is made of this episode in the final text, but in the manuscript McAlmon renews his overtures to Glassco, and suggests dumping Taylor in favour of a two-man expedition to Greece.  Glassco agrees if Graeme fails to get back on the train before it leaves the station (3, 81-83).  One may suspect that Glassco protests too much in the earlier scene, and that the melodrama of the train temptation existed only in his imagination.  Nevertheless, homosexuality is at least acknowledged as an issue in Glassco's existence, however fanciful or self-protective his treatment of the subject may be.  In the Memoirs, the presentation of what must have been an important dimension of Glassco's Paris experience does not go beyond muted hints.

     Both in the manuscript and in the final version, Glassco's portrait of his close friend Graeme Taylor is very shadowy.  Glassco seems well aware of this deficiency, though his intimacy with Taylor may have prevented him from remedying it.  In his notes of December 3, 1964, he advises himself to compose "10 or 12 inserts on George" (the name given to Graeme in the draft).  Glassco's portrait of McAlmon, on the other hand, remains one of the memorable features of the book, regardless of whatever distortions were imposed on the sexual relationship between the two men.  As well as being a somewhat pathetic lover, McAlmon was Glassco's Virgil in the Purgatorio of Paris, and his fundamental generosity of spirit is effectively captured.  Once one realizes that anyone in the book, whatever his nominal identity, may be called upon to expound Glassco's Nineties paradoxes, McAlmon is left as the only truly individualized voice Glassco created.  In a manuscript passage deleted from the final text, Glassco says of McAlmon: "His was the most genuine personality I have ever known" (6, 54).24

     Glassco's serious affairs with women follow a common pattern.  In each case, the woman is forceful in character, and in each instance except the case of Stanley, at a crucial stage the woman is the sexual aggressor (MOM, 24 and 175 [Daphne]; 105 and 108 [Diana]; 178-79 [Honour].25  In three of the four romances, Glassco is clearly abandoned by the woman; the parting with Diana is by mutual agreement, but Diana agrees with Glassco's suggestion that she regards him as "a nitwit . . . a kind of bright insect" (MOM, 111).  These common elements suggest specific psychological needs on Glassco's part, but for a frank avowal of these desires, we must look to the manuscript rather than the final text.  The affair with Diana Tree (the final version of Boyle) is the most conventional of the four.  As we have seen, Glassco gave a romantic turn to what was in reality a platonic friendship. In the final text, the lovers split up over their differing cultural tastes; in the manuscript, there is perhaps a somewhat closer approach to psychological realities.  "May Fry" (the manuscript name for the character) has as her ruling passion "procreation" (3, 76).  Kay Boyle did possess a baby at the time.  Glassco recoils in terror from May's purposes.

     Sexual deviancy is to be found in the other three affairs as related in the manuscript.  In the Memoirs, the process leading to Glassco's sexual relations with Stanley is left to the reader's surmise (MOM, 137-38).  In the manuscript, their common interest is that favourite theme of Glassco's pornographic fiction, flagellation.  In this initial sexual encounter, Glassco beats Stanley.  Graeme also "wouldn't mind having a whack at Stanley myself" (4, 43).  The two friends plot to "go halves on her" (4, 43-44), as opposed to Graeme's unilateral seduction of Stanley in the Memoirs (MOM, 146).  We may note Leon Edel's reminiscence that Glassco "then liked best as a kind of untragical Oedipus a male companion and a woman to be shared between them."26   Later on in the manuscript, Daphne also beats Stanley.  In a reversal of roles, Glassco finds himself attracted by Daphne's new activity and decides, "I've simply got to find some woman to beat me, that's all" (4, 86).

     The model for Daphne may be identified from the manuscript, in which she appears as "Gwen" or "Gwen LeG."  She is, therefore, Gwen LeGallienne (mentioned under her own name in MOM, p. 158), the step-daughter of Richard LeGallienne, the alcoholic Nineties relic for whom Glassco types part of a manuscript.  In Being Geniuses Together, McAlmon reports that he, Glassco and Taylor lived in a studio after the expedition to Nice, and adds that "down the hall lived Gwen LeGallienne, a half-sister of Eva, and Yvette Ledoux"27 (the latter, presumably, is the counterpart of "Angela Martin" in the Memoirs).

     In the manuscript, the character corresponding to Honour Quayle is more extreme in her tastes than in the final text.  Not only does she have a leather bedroom (MOM, 179), but she also becomes sexually aroused by smelling Glassco "from top to toe . . . all her senses seemed to be concentrated in her nose" (5, 39).  She has an orgasm, accompanied by a learned commentary "of a clinical nature" (5, 41), but does not permit him to achieve his own climax.  She is indeed, as she remarks in the Memoirs "very bed-selfish" (MOM, 179).

     Mrs. Quayle's area of sensual specialization is not mentioned either in the general plan of the manuscript or in the chapter outline.  It seems likely, therefore, that the manuscript account was an after-thought, perhaps a pornographic fantasy.  Whatever its other merits, it does underline, more firmly than the version in the final text, the imperiousness of Mrs. Quayle's character, and the psychological humiliation Glassco seems, not only to tolerate, but also to welcome.  Though this particular episode may have no factual basis, the figure of Mrs. Quayle likely represented a reality, possibly a tragic reality, in Glassco's existence.  In most of the manuscript, she is identified as "Mrs. Porterhouse," "Mrs. Porterfield," or "Mrs. P." The chapter plans for Chapter XXIII and Chapter XXV, which follow directly upon each other (in the latter heading, XXIV is crossed out, and XXV substituted) show that Glassco wished to portray the affair, for all its grotesqueness, as the source of deeply painful emotion:

. . . I meet Bob who offers to take me to Mexico.   But I am still fascinated by Mrs. P.  He tries to talk me out of my obsession for her — in vain.  I go to Mrs. P., have intercourse ecstatically & go into keeping with her, living in the rue Galilee.  (Stress this final choice of Mrs. P. as decisive, crucial, and end the chapter with an act of love which is also almost an act of suicide.)

          Chapter XXV

     Mrs. P. & I go to Spain.  Meet Lord [preceding word crossed out] Roland Hayes with whom she deceives me.  Develop t.b. in Puerta Pollensa, Majorca, return to Paris in a kind of waking dream. . . (6, 7-8)

Much of the feeling in these lines is communicated in the final text, pp. 235-41.  One wonders whether the louring Hector MacSween (MOM, 96-97; 105-06; 233-23), clearly a fictional creation, is Glassco's revenge on his victorious rival.

     What appears to be the first outline for the book (a page headed "Scribbler #1; Memoirs; Notes for Chaps I-IV") does not mention the Mrs. Quayle figure, though other characters from the last part of the book, like the Princess of Sarawak, are included.  Another general plan on four yellow yellow sheets of paper and headed "Plan of 2-&-2028 (last 3rd)" does incorporate the Quayle character, and provides some intriguing additional clues.  This plan anticipates much that eventually made its way into the manuscript, but also mentions several episodes that were never written up, including an extended homosexual affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, and briefer sexual encounters with Jean Cocteau and A.E. Housman.  At this stage of sketching his ideas, Glassco tended to use real names.  One comes on this tantalizing sentence: "I go into keeping with Mrs. Mary Warfield [crossed out; "Porterhouse" substituted] for a week . . . in the rue Dugulay-Trouin [crossed out; "Galilee" substituted] — but she is such an intolerable bore, such a bluestocking, such a lover of everything meretricious, that I walk out." This hint is followed up in the plan for Chapter XVIII (3, 74), though not elaborated in the chapter itself.

      Mrs. Warfield, the second page of "Plan of 2-&-20" states, "goes home."  After the affair with "Gwen LeG," and work for the Princess, Glassco meets "Peggy, my great love," and a partly familiar tale ensues:

     Peggy & I, & spring in Paris (this is spring, 1930).  She has money from her husband, who is getting a divorce from her.  [Insert] I try to seduce her but am unsuccessful until one evening we & an English couple go to a blue movie in Montmartre (rue Fontaine) where Peggy & I see the movie taken of me six months before.  This excites her so much that I succeed in sleeping with her that night for the first time.  This was the most unfortunate thing that ever happened to me, & set in motion the whole train of events by which I lost my head & my health & which ended in my finding myself in this hospital.  [End of insert] She & I take my old studio at 147 rue Broca, & life becomes a marvellous song.  We decide to go to Spain (summer 1930), where P. meets Roland Hayes & betrays me with him.  I develop t.b., leave Majorca in fall, hardly caring whether I live or die. . .

The plan for Chapter XX also links "Peggy R. . . an absolutely heartless woman" (3, 75) to the blue movie starring Glassco.  As in the plan for Chapter XXIV, McAlmon attempts, in vain, to rescue Buffy (this role in the final text is taken over by Caridad [MOM, 183-84], though an unspecified quarrel with McAlmon is mentioned [MOM, 234]).

      The persistence of Mrs. Warfield-Peggy R.-Mrs. Porterhouse-Quayle through two stages of planning, the manuscript and the final text argues for some factual basis to the character, although only the outcome of the affair is repeated in the same way through each stage of composition.  The Mrs. Quayle figure appears to be a conflation of two women, the bluestocking Mrs. Warfield, and the fatal Peggy R.  I have not been able to find any references to Mary Warfield or Roland Hayes in the memoirs of the period, but there must have been a few individuals in Paris who existed without being made into autobiographical literature.

     It must by now be evident that the character who, in the manuscript, allowed himself to be smelled by Mrs. Porterfield and walloped Stanley, is not exactly the same person as the protagonist of the Memoirs.  In his excellent article, John Lauber chose to refer to the protagonist of the Memoirs as Buffy, the author as Glassco.29  This strategy is appropriate in its hint of a divided personality, as well as in its alignment with current theories of autobiography.  Now that the existence of the manuscript is known, I propose to play the same game under different rules, by identifying the manuscript character as Buffy; the character in the finished Memoirs will be Glassco.

     Buffy may be distinguished from Glassco by his eager participation in a wider variety of sexual activities.  In the final text, Glassco does visit a brothel, write pornographic fiction, work as a male prostitute, and pose for pornographic pictures.  The atmosphere of the Memoirs is racy enough.  The supplementary practices Buffy engages in nevertheless produce a considerable difference in tone.  The revised Memoirs are a strange but cleverly contrived blend of intensely literary conversation and the theory and practice of hedonism.  In the main text of the manuscript (some literary scenes are later inserts), the proportion of literary dialogue is somewhat less, and the sexual episodes sometimes have the air of pornography.

     The characterization of the two protagonists is not what one might expect, in view of the differences in the narrative just outlined.  It is the Glassco of the Memoirs whom one might associate in spirit with the Rajah of the pornographic film shown in Nice (MOM, 126-27).  Glassco has his moments of anguished feeling, particularly in the final chapters, but on the whole we are shown his "grinning face" (MOM, 127), lapping up sensual pleasures without much introspection or contemplation.  Buffy is allowed to exhibit a wider range of emotion.  On balance, he is the more attractive as well as the more complex character (the complexity of the creator of these two personas goes without saying).  Buffy yields to temporary despair soon after arriving in Paris, feeling "drained, dispossessed, faced with the pointlessness of all gatherings, groups & societies" (2, 8-9) and even for the moment renouncing "interest in literature" (2, 9).  He is "nervous and dispirited" in anticipation of tricking his landlord in Nice (this episode, economically told in the Memoirs, occupies eighteen pages of manuscript — 4, 51-69).  His passion for Daphne (4, 83-4) is expressed more powerfully than in the final text.  He thinks of marrying Mrs. Porterhouse as "a vision of paradise" (5, 75) and writes an extended hymn of praise to her vagina, "not an abstraction like the word God or a symbol like the cross, but the very living, tangible stuff of a new & greater divinity of my very own" (6, 55).  Glassco's hostile feelings about his father are fully stated in the Memoirs, but the manuscript contains two passages of equal bitterness about his mother that are not found in the final version.  Comparing himself to McAlmon, the narrator (in this instance giving his thoughts in hospital) congratulates himself because "my mother never cared for me, thank God" (6, 40).  Thus he is spared that "spurious pumped-up sympathy of one's closest blood-relation" (6, 41).  Reflecting on the useless lives of the rich, Buffy focuses on his mother's occasional thought about her "unwanted son (oh Archie, couldn't you control yourself?) whom she has tried to forget ever since he was born & who has embraced the literary life because there was nothing else for him to do" (5, 22).

     In the final text of the Memoirs, Glassco is simply glad to join McAlmon when the latter returns to Paris.  Unreflectingly, he enjoys the comforts of a well-heated apartment and of good food, though his former employer in the male prostitution trade remarks, without precise knowledge, that "he goes into keeping" (MOM, 221-22).  The more sensitive Buffy is alloted two pages of manuscript to express "a certain discomfort" he feels "over my situation as a kept boy" (6, 62).  "For a few minutes," Buffy "was insensibly influenced by middle-class standards" (6, 53), a horror Glassco in the Memoirs never has to face.

     The Glassco of the final text most of the time wears the mask McAlmon took to be the real person: "He was then eighteen, and much the oldest, most ironic, and disillusioned of the three of us."   We can recognize Buffy, on the other hand, in Kay Boyle's story of a farewell night at the Coupole bar.  In a rage, she threw a stein of beer at McAlmon and hit Buffy instead (with the beer, not the glass): "in the moment before I rushed out into the Boulevard Montparnasse I saw Buffy put his head down on the bar and cry."30

     Not surprisingly, Glassco does not tell this story in either version of the Memoirs, but the vulnerability it reveals is certainly present in the manuscript's Buffy.  Perhaps it was this aspect of his protagonist that Glassco eventually came to dislike.  In a remarkable "Note for Memoirs of Montparnasse" (dated 16/11/65 in a hand-written version; typed the following day), Glassco calls his work "a total failure" and speaks of "the hero" as "an unconvincing liar & an intolerable coxcomb."  When Glassco in 1968 undertook to re-create his protagonist, he made him less naive and volatile, but also diminished his humanity.


In the "Note" just mentioned, Glassco tells himself that "everything related in it [the manuscript] is circumstantially true."  Yet, "it is a thoroughly bad book."  Glassco's ability to deceive himself is breath-taking Equally interesting, however, is the association of truth-telling with poor art.  This is a principle Glassco consistently maintained.  A draft describing his affair with Daphne is condemned with the curt annotation: "Cancel all this.  True, but not interesting." As Stephen Scobie has observed, McAlmon's autobiographical fiction is condemned for the absence of "invention" and "subterfuge" (MOM, 79).  Conversely, Frank Harris's autobiography is lavishly praised as the work of an "inspired liar" (MOM, 121).  Clearly, Glassco's views are both characteristic of his temperament, and also self-serving, but they do raise a legitimate question about the nature of autobiography.  To what extent do we permit an autobiographer "to impose a narrative form on everything that has happened," as Glassco delicately puts it (MOM, 4), before calling him either a liar or a novelist?  This question involves two separable, though inter-related issues.  The wider problem is the relationship of autobiography to fiction.  In dealing with Memoirs of Montparnasse, one must also weigh the value to be attached to a professedly autobiographical work which chooses to give little heed to literal truth.

     It is often claimed that no absolute and persuasive distinction can be made between autobiography and fiction.  Critical studies bearing the titles The Forms of Autobiography31 and Figures of Autobiography32 have included extended discussions of such works as David Copperfield (which is analyzed in both volumes), The Scarlet Letter and The Mill on the Floss.  Though Spengemann, in The Forms of Autobiography, laments that "what was once a rather clearly demarcated territory . . .  has become an unbounded sprawl," he nevertheless asserts that "the various poems, novels, and plays that have been recently inserted into the genre . . . do seem, despite their fictiveness, to address the same problems of self-definition that have taxed autobiographers."33   Though this view is probably the most commonly expressed position, it has not gone unchallenged.  Efforts to claim a unique character for autobiography are often founded both on the author's handling of his material and on the reader's response to what he accepts as autobiography.  Francis R. Hart grants that "seeking to be history, autobiography must be fictive."  Yet, he insists:

In understanding fiction one seeks an imaginative grasp of another's meaning; in understanding personal history one seeks an imaginative comprehension of another's historic identity. . . .  One has no obligation to a fantasy . . . There is — or should be — no such freedom, no such total imaginative access or response, for either writer or reader, in the historiographical transaction that is autobiography.34

Barret J. Mandel similarly directs attention to the autobiographer's responsibility, and the reader's expectation:

At every moment of any true autobiography (I do not speak of autobiographical novels) the author's intention is to convey the sense that "this has happened to me" . . . Despite the autobiographer's use of fiction techniques, the intention itself always speaks through very clearly. . . .

     Readers turn to autobiography to satisfy a need for verifying a fellow human being's experience of reality.  They achieve satisfaction when they feel strongly that the book is true to the experience of the author.35

The most widely accepted attempt to base a definition of autobiography upon the interaction of author and reader is Philippe Lejeune's postulation of "le pacte autobiographique," a contract established by the author's indication, on the title page or elsewhere, that he is indeed writing an autobiography.36

      Critics who admit that fiction and autobiography have much in common, yet who wish to find a specific place for autobiography, have sometimes been inclined to state that a whole spectrum of possibilities exists, ranging from fact-oriented memoir to the fiction of pure fantasy.  This tendency can be traced to Northrop Frye, who observed in The Anatomy of Criticism that "autobiography is another form which merges with the novel by a series of insensible gradations."37   More recently, Darrel Mansell has used the image of a horseshoe magnet to define the specific degrees of autobiography or fiction,38 and Georges May has relied upon the colour spectrum for the same purpose.39

      We have an interesting Canadian example with which to test the difference between what May calls "roman autobiographique" and "autobiographie romancée."40  Lawrence Garber's Garber's Tales from the Quarter covers some of the same spiritual and geographical territory as Memoirs of Montparnasse, albeit a few decades later.  Yet it is clear to every reader that, however autobiographical a work it may be, Tales's aim is the exercise of the imagination rather than the communication of autobiographical truth.  If it were to be discovered that Lawrence Garber did not have the experiences ascribed to "Garber," one's estimate of the book would be unchanged.

      The falsity contained in Memoirs of Montparnasse does inevitably affect any judgment of Glassco's work, in one way or another.  Such is the admirable tolerance of contemporary criticism that revelations of massive fictionalization may actually serve to raise an autobiographer's reputation.  William L. Howarth has given the name of "dramatic autobiography" to those works which are "a puzzling mixture of fakery and truth."  All of these autobiographers are "shameless liars and impersonators," but to Howarth, the fact that they are "actors, operating in the apparent reality of theatrical illusion" is sufficient justification.41  In an influential essay, Georges Gusdorf urges that the "significance of autobiography" should be sought "beyond truth and falsity":

It is therefore of little consequence that the Mémoires d'outre-tombe should be full of errors, omissions, and lies, and of little consequence also that Chateaubriand made up most of his Voyage en Amérique: the recollection of landscapes that he never saw and the description of the traveller's moods nevertheless remain excellent.  We may call it fiction or fraud, but its artistic value is real.42

Avrom Fleishman praises "a wide audience of modern readers" because, unlike literalist critics, "it welcomes displays of fictionality"43 in autobiography.

     Perhaps, rather than feeling defensive about his "loose and lying chronicle,"44 Glassco should have courted critical favour by lying all the more.  Such a tactic would not, however, have succeeded with every critic.  Barrett J. Mandel invokes reader response:

A reader who at first mistakes fiction for autobiography or vice versa feels cheated.  One wants to know whether the book is one or the other: it makes a difference in terms of how the book is to be read.45

In establishing categories of narrative, Philippe Lejeune comes to define the case in which the name of the protagonist is the name of the author:

Ce seul fait exclut la possibilité de la fiction.  Même si le récit est, historiquement, complètement faux, il sera de l'ordre du mensonge (qui est une catégorie "autobiographique") et non de la fiction.46

As a lady not very close to Glassco's heart might put it, a lie is a lie is a lie.  Though Lejeune does not specifically relate the issue of mensonge directly to his theory of le pacte autobiographique, it is surely in the context of Lejeune's general principle that Glassco's deviation from truth appears most striking.  Many other autobiographers, one is willing to suppose, have altered chronology, re-shaped events or even disguised sexual orientations to the degree that we find in Glassco.  There must be a much smaller number of works that involve so elaborate a strategy to mislead the reader.  John Glassco did not write any part of Memoirs of Montparnasse as a Royal Victoria Hospital patient in December, 1932.  To insist on this point may appear unsophisticated, but the momentous consequences of Glassco's invention need to be realized.  The reader's sympathy is falsely enlisted on behalf of an ill-starred youth teetering on the edge of the grave.  The lessons Glassco has derived from his experience are given a spurious authority by virtue of the narrator's Death-in-Life condition.  Our admiration for the insouciant protagonist is reinforced by and reinforces our regard for the gallant narrator.

     An attempt to deceive the reader was part of Glassco's plan right from the beginning, though the particular tactic contemplated is not always the same.  The first overall plan for the book (the page already mentioned in connection with Mrs. Quayle) contains the following note: "The book is the Memoirs of Bunny R — , & presented by "George Graham", after B — 's death in R.V.H. in 1930." If executed, this device would at least have had the merit of placing the work squarely in the category of autobiographical fiction.  A discarded "Foreward" is more like the published "Prefatory Note" in intention.  Glassco claims that he had written the Memoirs in 1931-33, but that his mother, shocked by the manuscript's revelations, had told him she destroyed it — he did not realize the manuscript had been preserved until after his mother's death.

     Though the manuscript is not as polished in its use of the hospital patient-narrator as the finished text, it does contain several passages of the young patient's reflections, including a tirade about the Depression that is much longer than the corresponding section (p. 70) of the Memoirs.  It is a fascinating sidelight upon Glassco's imagination that even in the act of repudiating the manuscript (the "note" of November 16, 1965, already cited), he still distorts the manuscript's process of composition:

This book is the result of an attempt, made in the winter of 1964-65, to put into some coherent & consecutive form the mass of notes, reminiscences & jottings produced during the six months I spent in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, over thirty years before . . .


     It would be both unfortunate and inappropriate, in my judgment, if detailed study of Glassco's manuscript were to produce the result of simply discrediting Memoirs of Montparnasse.  I wish to devote the final section of this essay to an examination of some ways, both invalid and valid, in which the Memoirs may be regarded in a more benevolent light.

     If a letter written by Glassco and included among his papers is to be relied upon, Glassco suffered, not only from the youthful bout with tuberculosis described in the Memoirs, but also from a recurrence of the same condition much closer in time to the writing of the book.  Thus, in creating his fictional framework, Glassco might well have drawn upon memories of the emotions induced by his earlier illness (even if he made no formal record of his feelings at the time) as well as a painful immediate consciousness of the burdens imposed by his lingering disease.  He is not, it could be argued, as much of an imposter in emotional terms as a narrowly focused analysis of the manuscript might suggest.  It is altogether possible that the accumulation of more biographical evidence, of the sort that is very sketchily reported here, may serve to win much sympathy for Glassco as a troubled human being, and may cast more light on the motives that prompted the writing of the Memoirs.47  Yet, if a future biographer may well find reason to pardon Glassco's manner of composing the Memoirs, a critic will still be faced with the product of Glassco's action, a work that seriously misrepresents itself to the reader.

     The same consideration must arise if it is argued that the Memoirs can now be regarded as a kind of autobiographical novel, or if it is suggested that autobiographers are all liars anyway.  In his dealings with his publisher, as well as the presentation of his work to the public, Glassco chose not to identify the Memoirs as a novel, and it cannot be assigned to that genre retroactively.48   To return to the Lejeune passage already quoted: an unhistorical account posing as autobiography is a lie, not a type of fiction.  The constitution of the human mind may dictate that all autobiographers, in their efforts to find within themselves a coherent identity, are involuntary liars.  But this self-deception, a necessary illusion if autobiography is to be written at all, cannot be used as a justification for Glassco's very conscious strategy to mislead others.

     Though the arguments in Glassco's favour, put in the crude form in which I have stated them, cannot be accepted, they can be refined in ways that would make them more persuasive.  Georges May has an illuminating passage on the autobiographical lie:

Même donc si l'autobiographie vient à violer, volontairement ou à son insu, sa promesse de sincérité et de véracité, il ne peut pas échapper à l'identité qui existe entre l'auteur et le personnage, identité qu'il a posée lui-même et sur laquelle repose tout son ouvrage.  S'il ment donc sur ce personnage, c'est toujours lui qui ment et c'est toujours sur ce personnage et il y a toujours la même identité entre ce lui et ce personnage.  Le mensonge en acquiert, si l'on ose dire, une sorte d'authenticité qui est sans commune mesure avec celle que peuvent atteindre les plus réussis et les plus mémorables des personnages de roman.  Notre manière de mentir, pourrions-nous dire, si nous avions le goût du paradoxe, est peut-être ce qui révèle le plus surement notre vérité profonde, à la manière des célèbres erreurs involontaires dont parle Freud.49

The autobiographical lie, in this view, need not be disguised as fiction; it is a special kind of autobiographical truth.  May's generalization lends itself very readily to being applied to Glassco's text.  Glassco's admission that "I was always . . . a great practitioner of deceit" (MOM, 38) is certainly the central autobiographical truth of the Memoirs.

     Any interpretation of the Memoirs must proceed from Glassco's own definition of it as a "loose and lying chronicle."  Valuable guidance in pursuing such an analysis is offered by Willis R. Buck, in an excellent article, "Reading Autobiography."   Buck initially proposes a "philosophical" approach to analyzing autobiography:

Essentially deconstructive, this method of reading involves in the first phase, a close analysis of the text in an effort to discover those passages where the autobiographer's homogeneous mask of identity is shaken by an eruption of heterogeneity, whether acknowledged by the writer or not. . . .  The goal . . . is to show the fictionality of autobiography by focusing on those passages where a given text clearly vacillates in its effort to fashion identity out of language.50

After giving an example of such a method in practice, Buck then partly repudiates his own procedure, suggesting that it "seems to be guilty of a failure of sympathy and respect for another individual's understanding of his own life."51  A "more sympathetic method of reading autobiography" should be adopted, its aim "to acknowledge and to sustain a man's representation of himself, despite its fictionality."52

     Glassco's conscious fictionalizing complicates but does not preclude an attempt to evaluate the Memoirs in the analytical but sympathetic fashion advocated by Buck.  The identities invented by Glassco for himself, self-assured as they sometimes appear, are nevertheless subject to frequent "eruptions of heterogeneity."  Out of the contradictions produced by divergent assumed identities emerges the profound truth about which May writes.

      I have already commented on the vulnerability of the manuscript's Buffy.  This side of himself Glassco repressed in the final version, in favour of a Portrait of the Artist as a Bohemian Young Man.  Until he is felled by the predatory Mrs. Quayle, Glassco, like his model George Moore, is the Hero of the café.  Expatriate Paris has clutched him to her generous if soiled bosom, delighting in his precocity and wit.  In fleeing from the Sun Life Company and his father's expectations, Glassco clearly makes a fundamental choice, a choice both the 1928 protagonist and the 1932 narrator find liberating.  Yet within the Quarter, a further choice awaits him.  To be a Paris exile could simply involve the pursuit of pleasure in defiance of bourgeois standards, or it could mean the cultivation of artistic aims within a supportive milieu.  One could, in short, aspire to be Dr.  Maloney, a sensualist who proposes toasts to "celebrate the victory of vice over the grave!" (MOM, 24), or to be James Joyce.

      Whether to be a carefree hedonist or to be a dedicated artist is a dilemma which presents itself to Glassco throughout the Memoirs.  Here we encounter a significant example of what Buck calls heterogeneity.  In both versions of the text, Glassco repeatedly asserts his allegiance to the life of the senses rather than to a life spent courting the Muse.  In the passage announcing his decision to write his memoirs, he deflates his artistic seriousness by remarking that "literature isn't so important as life" (MOM, 4).  His purpose in Paris and in life is "to enjoy myself" (MOM, 4).  When he enters Stanley's orbit in Nice, he explicitly confesses that he has rejected "the toilsome life of art" in order to follow "the primrose path of present enjoyment" (MOM, 145).  Two pages later, the 1932 narrator lends his support to "these arguments in favour of a youth of wine and roses." In a discussion with the more sober-minded Callaghan, Glassco rejects "literature" as "just another trap" (MOM, 102).   Reflecting upon life and art while in Luxembourg, he decides that he is not qualified to write because he has not had any painful emotions: "I had, moreover, no experience of anything but ecstasy" (MOM, p. 70; cf. p. 116: "Happiness was still the rule of my existence.)"

     We might conclude, therefore, that Glassco's youthful identity is firmly linked to one principle, the enjoyment of the senses, and one mood, unalleviated joy.  Yet, as John Lauber has already remarked, "he lives his life in literary terms."53  Why the endless stream of literary encounters, if he is determined to live like the Rajah?  Glassco begins his sojourn abroad with an experience of literary ecstasy, the meeting with George Moore.  Over half the book later, he can still be "filled with awe" (MOM, 158) at the prospect of an encounter with a much dimmer star in the literary firmament, Richard LeGallienne.  Purely literary disagreements are said, in the final version, to cause the break-up of a love affair (with Diana Tree).  In the eyes of others, Glassco's identity is based upon being a literary figure, a writer of memoirs, rather than a sensualist, as we see in the comments by McAlmon (72), Ethel Moorehead (131) and "Jimmy Carter" [Harry Crosby] (230-31).  The perception of Glassco by others is in response to his own definition of self: "That evening I began the first chapter of this book, and when anyone asked me what I was doing in Paris I was now able to say I was writing my Memoirs" (MOM, 28).

     In the final text, the initiation of the autobiographical project seems associated exclusively with a revulsion against surrealism and a wish to find a novel public image.  The manuscript version indicates slightly more thought.  Buffy rejects the idea of simply keeping a journal as too undiscriminating: "No, I think I will write my Memoirs.  After all I am now eighteen & it is high time I began to exercise selectivity" (1, 31).   There is no such facetiousness in a much later manuscript passage which offers more substantial evidence that Buffy did not blithely disregard the claims of literary ambition.  His discomfiture about being kept by McAlmon, already cited, leads into the following resolve:

Perhaps the only [several words crossed out] worthy aspect of this feeling was that it threw me back on myself & bred in me a sudden fresh resolution to produce some kind of literature, to amount to something by the efforts of intelligence & industry rather than by the exploitation of my person [preceding two words crossed out] personal attributes. (6, 53)

     It is significant that self-definition through literary ambition is here characterized as "worthy." Important as it is, this passage merely serves to confirm explicitly what other parts of both the manuscript and the final text have already told us between the lines: that Glassco was not living a life of perpetual, impossible ecstasy, and that literature mattered as much to him as life.  His contention that he lived life on one emotional note, in accordance with one jejune principle, cannot be taken seriously.  Why, then, should he make this claim?  A literary reason can provide a partial explanation.  The pathos of the final chapters and of the 1932 patient's plight is deepened if we believe that for most of his time in Paris, Glassco did nothing but fleet his time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.

     Yet I believe another, more compelling motive may be suspected.  For the 1964 author as much as the 1928 protagonist, the essence of the private drama being acted out on a public stage is the repudiation of conventional Anglo-Saxon Montreal and unloving, straitlaced parents.  A picture of unalloyed bliss serves Glassco as a reinforcement of the decision to choose Paris.  The act of filial rebellion appears more resounding if it takes the form of wallowing in open and guilt-free sensuality than if it expresses itself more tamely in literary labours at a desk.  After all, Glassco's father is willing to subsidize a "literary career" for some time at the rate of one hundred dollars a month, on condition that Glassco "live more discreetly" (MOM, p. 3).  The obvious course of action is to live less discreetly, and to pretend (even thirty-five years after the event) to have had little interest in literary aims.  So what seems to be a lie can, as Georges May has said, be a revelation of character.  A paragraph which was eventually cut from Glassco's "Prefatory Note" contains a similar, and related, mixture of lying and truth:

In any case the author is not, I think, a subject of the first importance in these memoirs.  For he seems to me now to be profitably diminished by two stronger elements in his book: youth and Paris.  They, in fact, soon monopolize his story — a take-over that might have upset him if he had noticed it — though he would have taken comfort from the fact that he was not completely submerged.  For in the end he is preserved, if at all, by his detachment, and survives more as the observer of his surroundings and epoch than as his own hero.54

     On the surface, this statement is highly disingenuous.  By creating his 1932 narrator, by involving the protagonist in unusual and varied escapades, by showing the protagonist conversing with literary celebrities and gaining their attention, Glassco laboured mightily to make his hero the centre of interest.  Yet Glassco is justified in saying that youth and Paris are his themes.  The point is simply that the protagonist is identified with, not submerged by, these "stronger elements."  He is youth and Paris, warring against prudence and Montreal.  An early draft of the 1969 preface interprets the Memoirs as the record of Glassco's deliverance from the bourgeois spirit: "This Canadian climate was what the all-too-susceptible author of this book had either to escape, succumb to, or go mad.  The choice is not underlined, but it was there."  It was only "luck that saved him" from becoming "a judge, a bishop, or even a stockbroker."55  The continuation of the June 2, 1965 Personal Journal entry shows Glassco still fighting off the sinister bourgeois forces that had attempted to conquer him nearly forty years before:

     But this rejection of my Memoirs has had another and most extraordinary effect on me.  It has worked a kind of rebirth.  Suddenly, somehow, I feel clean.  Once more I am an outsider, an outlaw.  I feel alive, quivering, new.  My attempt to compromise with the world of money, success & status has failed, & gloriously.56

The drafts of the preface reveal that at this late date Glassco was still either casting about for a satisfactory disguise with which to present a public attitude towards his protagonist, or genuinely uncertain about his own attitude.  The hero is said to display "bumptious and sentimental egoism" (we are back to the spirit of the November, 1965 repudiation).  The same sentence begins, however, with a nautical image of the protagonist's helplessness: he is "like a chip caught in two converging currents" [apparently "youth" and "Paris"].

     Conflicting notions of powerlessness and personal responsibility are also to be found in a final example of Glassco's inner truth and outward fiction: the picture of Glassco as sexual victim that comes to dominate the final section of the book.  This theme has its foreshadowing early in the book when Glassco is frightened by the "cannibalistic selfishness" (MOM, 40) of middle-aged Lesbians, but at that point he is not personally threatened.  He rediscovers the same type of personality, however, when he becomes a male prostitute and learns about "woman as a sexual predator" (MOM, 220).  As we have seen, Glassco's unpaid relations with women also demonstrate their aggressiveness.  Ultimately, the most vicious and compelling of these "lovely succubi" (MOM, 238) shatters both of the choices Paris offers to Glassco: she destroys his happiness and burns his manuscripts (MOM, 240).  He comes to interpret his life as a cautionary tale: "Here I should like to warn all young men against nymphomaniac women . .  .  do not squander your vital forces in the arms of a woman" (MOM, 238).  Like the speaker of Houseman's poem, "When I Was One-and-Twenty," he has "paid with sighs a plenty" for his foolishness in giving his heart away.57

     Events in the final third of the book (after the return to Paris, p. 151) take a fairly consistent turn for the worse: the final disaster of Mrs. Quayle is preceded by venereal disease, extreme financial difficulties and distasteful expedients to raise cash.  These developments force Glassco to admit (using the device of a hospital conversation with Graeme) that he was "in love with a dream," but he argues that "Montparnasse and its people came very close" to realizing his "dream of excellence and beauty" (MOM, 237-38).  At the very moment of its enforced abandonment, therefore, the vision of Paris is defended as at least plausible.   Glassco in this scene is associated with his other professed theme, "youth": he is the eternal idealistic young man, doomed to disillusionment.  The extreme disillusionment of the 1960s Glassco is itself a strong motive for the equation of Paris and youth with bliss.  Paris is the setting for Glassco's own Age of Gold, viewed from the perspective of his Age of Brass.

     All the generalizing passages just quoted have in common that they seek to deflect the reader's attention (perhaps also Glassco's own attention) from any personal responsibility he may have had for his plight.  These explanations may not carry much conviction, but if they fail to be persuasive, Glassco has other, contradictory, interpretations to offer.

     The deviancy related in the manuscript not only emphasizes Buffy's sexual humiliation, but also precipitates a moment of illumination: "It seems I am a masochist" (4, 76).  This whole dimension, in its physical manifestations, is missing from the final text, but there is a corresponding, somewhat muted passage.  Under the disguise of discovering true love, Glassco really speaks of love in a specifically masochistic way, even bringing in some early enthusiasm for physical punishment:

     The trouble, I thought, is that my love for her is really pure, the first pure love I've ever felt for a woman — if I exclude a little girl with ringlets whom I loved in kindergarten: why did I love her?  Perhaps because she used to kick my shins under the table where we used to cut out coloured paper.  Why do I love Mrs. Quayle?  Because she has really done the same thing.  But still it doesn't make sense.  In the first place, she isn't my type at all.  Or isn't that the very reason? Don't I love her because she is incapable of loving me? (MOM, 80)

Glassco has given us two choices of victim: the victim who is simply walking along the street when he is run over by a fatal woman, and the victim who keenly desires his own downfall.  In addition, there is the shrewd victim who will benefit from his mistakes by acting with more circumspection (MOM, 145, 236).  Glassco also presents the reader with a strategy to be followed: victory can emerge out of defeat through an assertion of will:

In any degrading situation one must refuse to admit the degradation: one is never more ridiculous than one feels.  Casanova is the supreme example of a man always rising above his petty misfortunes.  (MOM, 187)

Casanova is an appropriate model for Glassco in several respects.  He is the hedonist par excellence, and, as Glassco proceeds to tell us, suffered from the kind of ignominy Buffy himself had to endure.  Most importantly, he is an autobiographer of the "dramatic"58 or lying kind with whom Glassco would have the closest affinity.  Casanova's name surfaces again in another extremely significant passage:

     There are some natural philosophers and wiseacres who affirm that what a man has done he will do again, but I do not think they are right: he will follow the same pattern, perhaps, but not so recklessly.  This is shown in the memoirs of all the great sensualists like Pepys and Rousseau, and of all the great scoundrels like Casanova and Frank Harris.  It is a pity that more memoirs like theirs are not written.  These are the best we know of the life of individual man . . . (MOM, 236)

     Under the guise of objective literary commentary, Glassco is engaged in justifying and praising his own creation.  His own work, filled as it is with sensual episodes, qualifies for inclusion in the great tradition of autobiographers who have found their way to the palace of wisdom by taking the road of excess.  Yet, if part of the autobiographical truth revealed by this passage and by the Memoirs in general is that Glassco aspired to be a great sensualist, it is also evident, especially if the manuscript is taken into account, that he has stronger claims to be considered a great master of disguise.   This is, however, a title Glassco might also have relished, as we can see if we return to the earlier passage nominally about Casanova.  Casanova's Memoirs, the manuscript version of the passage informs us, "is one of the greatest books ever written" (5, 63).  This judgment gains in interest when read in conjunction with Glassco's statement in the final text that Casanova's "lordly manner" is "one of the few points on which he can be believed" (MOM, 188).  Glassco continues:

We end, in other words, by loving him as much for what he really was as for what he tells us he was, and discover that the two characters complement each other and make an intelligible whole.  In this way we grasp the truth that man is not only a living creature but the person of his own creation.

Casanova is to be admired for his capacity to invent selves.  If Casanova deserves our respect on those grounds, so does Glassco.   What Glassco tells us he was (the ecstatic lover of Paris, the victim of fate and fatal women) is so thickly applied in the layers of the book that we despair of ever finding out what he really was underneath.  Yet, with the aid of the manuscript version, we can at least see him at work applying the layers.  This artful concealment of identity is itself a defining feature of his identity.  Buffy, the very selective memoir writer of 1928, is the same man as the 1964 weaver of multiple identities.  The youthful Buffy is not "less like someone I have been than a character in a novel I have read" (MOM, xiii).  He is more like a character in a novel Glassco has written; more accurately, he is one of many assumed identities Glassco invented for himself, idealized as being his real self, or scorned as being his contempible self.59 If there is one ingredient to bind together Glassco's protean selves, it is his loathing of the model of conventionality represented by his parents.  It is this underlying passion which links his defiant delight in sensuality with his enthusiasm for disguise.  He lies, as he tells us, because his father was so truthful (MOM, 38).

     It is tempting to think that Glassco might take pleasure in the discovery of his manuscript.  It reveals so thoroughly that he was "the person of his creation" that it admits him to membership in the club of the "dramatic," fictionalizing autobiographers.   That he would be pleased to be in such company is made absolutely clear in a 1969 letter Glassco wrote to Boyle:

     You see, I look on the real value of memoirs as being not so much a record of "what happened" as a re-creation of the spirit of a period in time.  The first approach is so often simply tedious, faded literary gossip, name-dropping, disconnected anecdotes etc. . . . The second approach is that of Rousseau, Casanova and George Moore.  None of them felt tied to historical truth; they were all liars and produced works of art by invention. Who cares about their lies now?  Who knows, for instance, whether Casanova's "Henriette" even existed?  Yet she lives.  I don't compare myself to them, naturally, but my book is in their style.60

An earlier letter to Boyle, part of which I have already quoted, continues in the same vein, and invokes the same models:

It's really fiction: I was trying to re-create the atmosphere and spirit of the Paris of those days as it was for me.  The way George Moore and Casanova did it for the world of their youth.61

Fiction; Paris; me; youth: these words re-arrange themselves in various combinations as one ponders Glassco's elusive reflection of himself in the Memoirs.  Glassco has left it for others to find the inner truth of his outward lies, but, as always, he has left a mocking aphorism to inspire the search: "Everything a man writes about himself is instructive" (MOM, 237).


  1. Memoirs of Montparnasse (Toronto: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), p. 38.  All further references to the published version of this work (identified as MOM) will appear in the text. [back]

  2. The manuscript of Memoirs of Montparnasse, as well as correspondence and other Glassco manuscripts and publications, was acquired by Public Archives Canada from Montreal Book Auctions (acting on Glassco's behalf) in 1973.  The purchase price was $9,500 (Montreal Star, Oct. 4, 1973).  The 1964 date of composition of the manuscript was not revealed in print for another ten years, until the publication of the entry on Glassco in the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature (1983). [back]

  3. Sanford J. Smoller, Adrift Among Geniuses (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 358, 359, 360. [back]

  4. John Lauber, "Liberty and the Pursuit of Pleasure: John Glassco's Quest," Canadian Literature, No. 90 (1981), pp. 66-68.  An annotated copy of the This Quarter article, the basis of Glassco's revisions, is in the Glassco Papers. [back]

  5. Michael Gnarowski, A Concise Bibliography of English-Canadian Literature, 2nd ed. (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1978), p. 46. [back]

  6. Stephen Scobie, "The Mirror on the Brothel Wall: John Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse," Canadian Poetry, No. 13 (Fall/Winter, 1983), 46. [back]

  7. Glassco Papers, Public Archives Canada, Box M.G. 30, D 163, vol. 1, Scribbler #6, p. 68.  All further references to the manuscript version of Memoirs of Montparnasse will appear in the text.   Wherever possible, quotations from the manuscript will be identified by scribbler number, followed by the page number within the scribbler.  Quotations not identified in this way are from separate sheets of paper.  I am grateful to Anne Goddard of Public Archives Canada for her help in providing information and photocopies. [back]

  8. If the first part of the manuscript was written at the same steady pace as the section after p. 108, Glassco would have begun writing the draft in the fall of 1963.  By January 29, 1964, he had reached p. 114 of the published text (3, 87 in the manuscript); by April 2, he was at p. 154 (4, 79); by May 23rd, he was at p. 179 (5, 38).  After completing the main text he worked on inserts until December (a sheet of "Corrections" is dated Dec. 3, 1964).  Letters to Jean LeMoyne (May 4, 1964) and Michael Gnarowski (Dec.  5, 1964) confirm this schedule. [back]

  9. Two excerpts were published in the Winter, 1969 issue of The Tamarack Review (No. 49), and four in the succeeding issue, No. 50-1. [back]

  10. Entry for June 2, 1965, Personal Journal 1965-1969, Glassco Papers (Restricted).  This and l two later extracts from this entry are quoted by kind permission of William Toye.  No further use of this material for publication can be made without his permission. [back]

  11. The poem was written for Kay Boyle, and appears on the half-title page of a copy of Memoirs in the Canadiana Collection of the North York Public Library, Willowdale, Ontario.  See the analyses of the poem by Lauber and Scobie. [back]

  12. Glassco to Kay Boyle, Nov. 28, 1967.  Glassco Papers, vol. 12.  All further quotations from Glassco's letters to Boyle are drawn from this source. [back]

  13. Glassco to Kay Boyle, Dec. 21, 1967[back]

  14. Callaghan's book, That Summer in Paris, was published in January, 1963 (for the precise date, I am indebted to Bruce Whiteman, Research Collections Librarian, Mills Memorial Library, McMaster University).   Glassco was very aware of the book — he notes at 3, 81: "Callaghan's book is 90,000 words." In his notes for the portrait of Callaghan in the Memoirs, he is more acerbic than in the final text.  He had reason to be bitter.  Callaghan's cruel story, "Now That April's Here" was, according to one of Glassco's notes, "quite a shock to me." Publication of Callaghan's memoir (in which he states, quite unjustly, that Glassco's attitude towards McAlmon was confined to "snickering" [p. 132]) likely played a part in Glassco's decision to write his own book.  Glassco's hostility towards Callaghan, and towards That Summer in Paris is re-affirmed in his letters to Kay Boyle. [back]

  15. Glassco Papers, vol. 4, "A Book of Odds and Ends," pp. 1, 4.  Ford Madox Ford's own memoirs have generally been regarded as completely unreliable, so the treatment Glassco accords him has an element of poetic justice. [back]

  16. In the final text of the Memoirs, Graeme Taylor says that Moore's writing constituted "a kind of statement of youth for all time" (MOM, 12).  In a draft of a preface, written in the fall of 1969 (discussed in more detail later in this essay), Glassco says that in his book the author is "profitably diminished by two stronger elements in his book: youth and Paris."[back]

  17. Joseph Hone, The Life of George Moore (London: Gollancz, 1936), pp. 417, 422. [back]

  18. Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959), pp. 630-31. [back]

  19. Morley Callaghan, That Summer in Paris (Toronto: Macmillan, 1963), pp. 90-91.  McAlmon himself tells the story somewhat differently: Being Geniuses Together (London: Secker & Warburg, 1938), p. 174. [back]

  20. Glassco to William Toye, February 13, 1969.  Quoted by kind permission of William Toye. [back]

  21. Much is made in the Memoirs of a banquet celebrating the centenary of the birth of Luxembourg's national poet, Lenz. We may ask with McAlmon, "Who in hell is Lenz anyway?" (MOM, 68).  There are many German writers named Lenz, but no poet fitting Glassco's description appears in the British Library catalogue, in several dictionaries of German writers, or in standard guidebooks (Michelin, Fodor, Blue) to Luxembourg.  Nina Nelson, in Belgium and Luxembourg (London: Batsford, 1975), does not mention Lenz either, but refers (pp. 168-69) to Michel Rodange, who wrote an "epic poem" about Renart the Fox, and has a statue in his honour.  The statue, as Nelson describes it, is quite unlike the statue Glassco gives to Lenz (MOM, 68).  A reference in Glassco's letter of August 8, 1967 to Boyle indicates that he did go to Luxembourg with McAlmon. [back]

  22. Kay Boyle, Being Geniuses Together, 2nd ed.  (New York: Doubleday, 1968), pp. 332-33. [back]

  23. Boyle, p. 291. Given the character of her ghost-writers, the Dayang Muda's own testimony must be treated with great caution.  For what it is worth, she contradicts Boyle as well as Glassco in asserting that her conversion to Catholicism took place "since concluding these recollections." H.H. the Dayang Muda of Sarawak, Relations and Complications (London: Bodley Head, 1929), p. 246.  Glassco places his stay with the Princess in the fall of 1929, after her book was published (it was reviewed, not unfavourably, in the Times Literary Supplement of July 11, 1929).  Glassco claims the Dayang Muda was converted to Catholicism after her fling with Islam (letter to Boyle, Nov. 28, 1967); Boyle has the conversions in reverse order (Being Geniuses, p. 291).  They could not agree about the appearance of Lucien Daudet, and neither could remember if he was Lucien père or fils.[back]

  24. Glassco and McAlmon rekindled their friendship in the 1940s after McAlmon had sunk into obscurity (Smoller, pp. 292-93). [back]

  25. Leon Edel mentions that in an (unidentified) interview, Glassco listed among his three primary fears "the fear of women." "John Glassco (1909-1981) and his Erotic Muse," Canadian Literature, No. 93 (1982), p. 110. [back]

  26. Edel, pp. 109-10. [back]

  27. Being Geniuses Together, 2nd ed., p. 307. [back]

  28. The working title, "Two and Twenty," is an allusion to A.E. Housman's poem "When I Was One-and-Twenty." Another working title was "Tender Journal" (an allusion to Love's Labour's Lost, I, ii). [back]

  29. Lauber, p. 72. [back]

  30. McAlmon quotation, Being Geniuses Together, 2nd ed., p. 307.  Boyle quotation, pp. 355-56.  Stephen Scobie reports that Glassco denied having played the role assigned to him by Boyle.  He does not, however, object to the scene in his letters to her. [back]

  31. William C. Spengemann, The Forms of Autobiography (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1980). [back]

  32. Avrom Fleishman, Figures of Autobiography (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1983). [back]

  33. Spengemann, pp. xii-xiii. [back]

  34. Francis R. Hart, "Notes for an Anatomy of Modern Autobiography," New Literary History 1 (1970), p. 488. [back]

  35. Barret J. Mandel, "Full of Life Now," in James Olney ed., Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 53, 58. [back]

  36. Philippe Lejeune, Le Pacte autobiographique (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1975), p. 26. [back]

  37. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), p. 307. [back]

  38. Darrel Mansell, "Unsettling the Colonel's Hash: 'Fact' in Autobiography," in Albert E. Stone ed., The American Autobiography (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981), pp. 75-76. [back]

  39. Georges May, L'autobiographie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1979), pp. 18894. [back]

  40. May, pp. 189, 190. [back]

  41. William L. Howarth, "Some Principles of Autobiography," in Olney, pp. 99, 100, 104. [back]

  42. Georges Gusdorf, "Conditions and Limits of Autobiography," in Olney, p. 43. [back]

  43. Fleishman, p. 18. [back]

  44. Part of the first line of the poem by Glassco addressed to Kay Boyle (see note 11, above). [back]

  45. Mandel, p. 53. [back]

  46. Lejeune, p. 30. [back]

  47. Leon Edel has already written tolerantly about Glassco's habits of literary deception (though not in relation to the Memoirs).  Edel, pp. 114-15. [back]

  48. Correspondence between Glassco and Edel, and between Glassco and William Toye, his Oxford University Press editor, may be found in the Glassco Papers.  These letters show that neither Edel nor Toye were in any way aware of, or accomplices in, Glassco's deception. [back]

  49. May, p. 181[back]

  50. Willis R. Buck, "Reading Autobiography," Genre XIII (Winter, 1980), p. 484. [back]

  51. Buck, pp. 491-92. [back]

  52. Buck, p. 492. [back]

  53. Lauber, p. 63. [back]

  54. Glassco Papers, vol. 2.  Four drafts of the "Preface" are preserved.  The earliest is dated "begun Sept. 6, '69," the last Oct. 14, '69."[back]

  55. "Author's Preface," Oct. 1, 1969, Glassco Papers, vol. 2.  Cf Edel's recollection, p. 109: "I met Buffy at McGill when he was seventeen and in full rebellion against his father — the family dictator and pillar of affluence and authority."[back]

  56. Entry for June 2, 1965, Personal Journal 1965-1969, Glassco Papers (Restricted). [back]

  57. "When I Was One-and-Twenty," 11. 13, 4. [back]

  58. The term used by William L. Howarth.  See Note 41, above. [back]

  59. One of Glassco's methods in attempting to define his own identify was to seek to find a self in the work of other writers.  As he says in the June 2, 1965 journal entry: "Who understands himself?  I have thought to find myself in Montaigne, Pepys, Rousseau, Garneau (the last most of all), but this is not I."  Glassco Papers (Restricted). [back]

  60. Glassco to Boyle, March 19, 1969.[back]

  61. Glassco to Boyle, Dec. 2, 1968.[back]