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Earnshaw, Steven (2016)
Publisher: Alcohol and Drugs History Society
Languages: English
Types: Article
The article considers four examples from the nineteenth century when the stereotype of the habitual drunkard appears to give way to a figure that bears closer resemblance to the twentieth century’s “Existential\ud drinker.” These case studies offer different illustrations of a newly emerging metaphysical landscape around heavy drinking. First, in the 1872 Select Committee on Habitual Drunkards, the panel cannot understand why a repeat offender would choose to drink rather than be cared for. Second, the heroine of George Eliot’s tale “Janet’s Repentance” encounters a spiritual “despair” through her drinking habit. Third, a group of pictures by the artist Honoré Daumier features two drinkers in what are here interpreted as Existential tableaux. Fourth, Émile Zola’s novel L’Assommoir is read as one of the first sustained accounts of excessive drinking that is both a visceral response to conditions under industrial capitalism, while also latching onto a type of metaphysical unsettling prompted by such drinking.
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    • 1. Jack London, John Barleycorn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
    • 2. Later twentieth-century igures include the heroines of Jean Rhys's interwar nov,els Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend (Charles B. Jackson, 1944), Geoffrey Firmin in Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry, 1947), Fred Exley in A Fan's Notes (Frederick Exley, 1968), and Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas (John O'Brien, 1990). There is often a blurring in these books between the life of the author and the main character.
    • 3. London, John Barleycorn, 7.
    • 4. “The story is told (by Kierkegaard) of the absent-minded man so abstracted from his own life that he hardly knows he exists until, one ine morning, he wakes up tomsienldf hi dead,” William Barrett, Irrational Man. A Study in Existential Philosophy (New York: Anchor Books, 1958), 3.
    • 5. “'[London] claimed that he had “been more stimulated by Nietzsche than any other writer in the world,'” Per Serritslev Petersen, “Jack London's Dialectical Philosophy between Nietzsche's Radical Nihilism and Jules de Gaultier's Bovarysme,” Partial Answers 9, No. 1 (2011), 67.
    • 6. In doing so it is largely contrary to Mariana Valverde's argument in Diseases of the Will, which urges historians to see the idea of “habit” as a pragmatic guide to understanding alcoholism, e.g. 68-69. Mariana Valverde, Diseases of the Will: Alcohol and the Dilemmas of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
    • 7. See Anya Taylor, Bacchus in Romantic England (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), and James Nicholls, especially on the emergence of confessional drinker narratives, Drink, Modernity and Modernism. Representations of drinking and intoxication in James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Jean Rhys. (PhD Diss., Liverpool John Moores University, 2002).
    • 8. George Cruikshank, The Bottle (London: Cowans & Gray, 1906.) Available at archive. org
    • 9. Report from the Select Committee on Habitual Drunkards, Together with the Proceedings, Minutes of Evidence, Appendix and Index (1872) (Shannon, Ireland: Irish University Press, 1968), iii.
    • 10. Report (1872), 24 (qn. 464).
    • 11. Report (1872), iii.
    • 12. E.g. “He will perhaps work about two days a week, and he will drink during the remainder of the time; that is about his style of life,” Report (1872), 2 (qn. 23).
    • 13. Report (1872), iii.
    • 14. Charles Dickens, “The Drunkard's Death,” in Sketches by Boz (London: Penguin, 1995), 555.
    • 15. Report (1872), 1 (qn. 9).
    • 16. Report (1872), 1, (qn. 10).
    • 17. Report (1872), 3-4, (qn. 70).
    • 18. See the WHO's “Lexicon of Alcohol and Drug Terms,” http://www.who.int/substance_ abuse/terminology/who_lexicon/en/ Last accessed 1 July 2015.
    • 19. T. S. Arthur, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room (Boston: L. P. Crown, 1854), e.g. 196.
    • 20. Mrs Charles Wightman, Haste to the Rescue, or, Work While It is Day (London: James Nisbett, 1849).
    • 21. See Sheila Shaw, “The Female Alcoholic in Victorian Fiction: George Eliot's Unpoetic Heroine,” in Nineteenth-Century Women Writers of the English-Speaking World, ed. Rhoda B. Nathan (London: Greenwood Press, 1986).
    • 22. George Eliot, “Janet's Repentance” in Scenes of Clerical Life (London: Penguin, 1998), 287. Annette Federico discusses some similar Existential aspects in “'I must have drink': Addiction, Angst and Victorian Realism,” Dionysos 2 (Fall 1990): 11-25.
    • 23. “Janet's Repentance,” 350.
    • 24. Catholic Encyclopedia, “Despair,” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04755a.htm Last accessed 20 October 2014.
    • 25. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. Second and Revised Edition, 1920. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Online Edition Copyright (2008), Kevin Knight. 2.2 Question 20. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3020.htm Last accessed 20 October 2014.
    • 26. See, for example, Moira Gatens “The Art and Philosophy of George Eliot,” Philosophy and Literature 33 (April 2009), 73.
    • 27. Colta Ives, Margret Stuffmann and Martin Sonnabend, Daumier Drawings (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, 1992), 154. The Daumier Register lists 276 images for the theme of “drinking,” although this does not include “Deux buveurs,” discussed below.
    • 28. Ives et al., Daumier Drawings, No. 59, p. 151; watercolour, pen and ink.
    • 29. Others have observed the unusual nature of the “sketch,” e.g. Michael Glover: “The exchange of gaze is terrible, unnerving, wild, pop-eyed. Bulbous eye stares at bulbous eye. The faces themselves are weirdly lit, in white. They appear stunned, mask-like. Those masks look loose enough to be peelable, to reveal the skull beneath”; “Great Works: Two Drinkers (Deux Buveurs) by Honoré Daumier, 1860-64.” The Independent, 29 November, 2013. http:// www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/great-works-two-drinkers-deuxbuveurs-by-honor-daumier-18604-8973036.html. Last accessed 14 October 2014.
    • 30. The dangerous pregnancy of the situation can be compared with Van Gogh's painting “Night Café at Arles” (1888), as Van Gogh describes it in a letter to his brother Theo: “In my picture... I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime” (9 September, 1888), http://vangoghletters.org/vg/, Letter 677. See my “Drink, Dissolution, Antibiography: The Existential Drinker” in Biographies of Drink (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015) for a discussion of this painting and the related letter.
    • 31. Daumier Register 5996.
    • 32. George Lukács, Studies in European Realism (London: Merlin Press, 1972), 6.
    • 33. Ives et al., Daumier Drawings 154-55. Catalogue details provided by Ives et al.
    • 34. Daumier Register 7155, also known as “Le fumeur.”
    • 35. Daumier Register 7005; Ibid. 8030; Robert Rey, Honoré Daumier (London: Thames and Hudson, 1966), 104.
    • 36. Van Gogh's painting “The Drinkers” (1890) is a version of this sketch.
    • 37. Also known as “The Absinthe Drinker” and “In a Café.”
    • 38. The lithographs are Daumier Register 3255 and 3256, both 1863.
    • 39. Émile Zola “Preface,” L'Assommoir (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 4.
    • 40. Charles Reade, Drink, ed. David Baguley (London, Ontario: Mestengo Press, 1991); William Busnach and Octave Gastineau. L'Assommoir. Drame en cinq actes et neuf tableaux. Avec une Préface d'Émile Zola (Paris: G. Charpentier, 1881).
    • 41. Zola, L'Assommoir, 140. I have added in the original French from Émile Zola, L'Assommoir (Editions Gallimard, 1978; no place), 174-75.
    • 42. For a full description of “paresse(s),” including its religious signiicanicteranryd l use, see http://www.cnrtl.fr/deinition/paresses. Last accessed 24 June 2015.
    • 43. Zola, L'Assommoir, 42.
    • 44. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. http://www.marxists. org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.htm. Last accessed 6 November 2015.
    • 45. See Kierkegaard's The Public Age, for example, or “The Crowd is Untruth.”
    • 46. In “I must have drink,” Federico, discussing addiction (opium use as well as alcohol) in relation to Mary Barton, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and “Janet's Repentance” says: “These are painful characters, severely disturbed by the world around them, by injustice, misery, and untruth, just as much as they are by the unknowable and the unseen - the nothingness they fear. The angst felt by the alcoholic character is genuine, not stereotypic” (p. 14).
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