13 May 2011

John Glassco, Ghostwriter



Relations and Complications
H.H. The Dayang Muda of Sarawak
London: John Lane, the Bodley Head, 1929


Bibliographer M. Clark Chambers lists Relations and Complications as Kay Boyle's first book. Although I take exception, we would at the very least agree that it is not the work of the Dayang Muda of Sarawak.

Née Gladys Milton Palmer, of the Huntley & Palmer biscuit empire, Her Highness led the most extraordinary life. Oscar Wilde, Alphonse Daudet and John Ruskin dined at her family's table, as did her godfather George Meredith.

George Meredith with the Dayang Muda's mother, undated.

A woman of amazonian beauty, in 1904 she married Bertram Brooke, whose grandfather, having wrestled approximately 125,000 square kilometres of Borneo from the Sultan of Brunei, was the first White Rajah of Sarawak.


It's not at all difficult to see what encouraged publisher John Lane to draw up a contract for the Dayang Muda's biography. Unforeseen was the sad fact the lady was anything but a memoirist. As Boyle describes it, “her valiant attempts to relive the memories of all she had been, or had not been, served no purpose except to stun her into silence.” And so, the Dayang Muda hired Boyle as a ghostwriter.

Just how many of these words rightfully belong to the American author is a matter to be debated. In her revised – bastardized, really – edition of Robert McAlmon's Being Geniuses Together, Boyle writes that the then-18-year-old Glassco, hired to type the manuscript, "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.”

Robert McAlmon tells all through his roman à clef The Nightinghouls of Paris, in which Sudge Galbraith (Buffy Glassco) works with Dale Burke (Kay Boyle) on the final draft of the Princess of Faraway's story:
The new script of the memoirs was beautiful, for Sudge typed well and got the manuscript up with professional competence. Later, when the book appeared it had a slight success, but anybody knowing the Princess knew that all the dainty wit and bright malice in the book were Sudge’s. Dale had furnished Irish gaiety and wit here and there, but she admitted that Sudge slipped in the best cracks. He had a talent for drawing old dames and gents with cruel caricature, and while his contributions to the book were trivial, the memoirs were so trivial that Sudge’s contribution took on profundity.
Late in life, Boyle wrote Chambers that of the seventeen chapters, she had had nothing to do with the final two, believing that these had been written by Glassco and forgotten poet Archibald Craig, the Dayang Muda's cousin.

In his own Memoirs of Montparnasse, Glassco claims to have been nothing more than the typist. Typical of a man given to humility and self-abasement; typical also of one who took delight in literary subterfuge.

Object: A fairly thick book consisting of 271 pages and 29 plates, ending anti-climactically with a further six pages of advertisements for other John Lane titles. My copy seems to have suffered from a horrible skin condition (now in abeyance).



Access: Uncommon. Worldcat lists only seven libraries that hold copies – all in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Canadians and Malaysians are out of luck. Only two copies are currently listed for sale online. Though damaged, the cheaper is priced fairly at €275. Those with even deeper pockets will want to consider the more expensive volume. Offered by a Maryland bookseller at US$750, it features Boyle's signature and telling comment: "This was the hardest writing I have ever done." A man with pockets full of lint, for years I kept an eye out for an affordable copy. In all that time, I spotted not one in a dust jacket (which I'm beginning to believe did not exist). I bought my copy for US$85 from a California bookseller in the long, hot summer of 2004.

Cross-posted at A Gentleman of Pleasure.

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