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Booze as a Muse: Literary and Cultural Studies of Drink

by Dieter Fuchs (Volume editor) Wojciech Klepuszewski (Volume editor) Matthew Leroy (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 194 Pages
Series: Austrian Studies in English, Volume 106

Summary

Attempts to approach the topic of drink and literature and the question of how far this is interconnected with the habits of the writers can be considered within the wider frame of what is called drinking studies. This is an interdisciplinary field which is a composite of numerous facets, the common denominator being the analysis of how drink has functioned and functions in the lives of individuals and communities, taking into consideration diverse contexts, perspectives and backgrounds connected with alcohol consumption (or abuse). Among numerous examinations within the field of drinking studies, the province of literary criticism offers interesting insights. Any critical debate in this respect inevitably focuses on two areas, the first one being the study of literature per se; the other encompasses the writers’ lives and the extent to which their drinking affects their writing. Thus, the perspective can be critical, biographical, or both, reflecting what is often referred to as life-writing, or self-writing. In some instances, one might even risk calling it inspirational writing, and in these cases, one needs to debate the question of how alcohol as a source of inspiration – or ‘booze as a muse’ – is perceived.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Martini vs. Grappa: The Functions of Alcohol in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (Silvia Ammary)
  • Neutralizing Anxiety in Europe – Expatriation and Alcohol in Hemingway’s Short Stories (Teodora Domotor)
  • Drinking with Dazai: From Being Spun to Becoming Non-Human (Ana Došen)
  • James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, and the Viennese Boozer Known as “Lieber Augustin” (Dieter Fuchs)
  • Drinking an Identity: The Nature of Addiction in Péter Hajnóczy’s Death Rode out from Persia (Kristóf Kiss)
  • “Ballade of Good Whisky”: Scottish uisge beatha in Literature (Wojciech Klepuszewski)
  • Lawrence Osborne: Boozehound’s Travelogues (Wojciech Klepuszewski)
  • Harnessing the Spirit: An Examination of Alcohol’s Inspirational Role in Creative Writing (Matthew Leroy)
  • The Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive: Dylan Thomas and the Legend of the Drunken Bard (Merritt Moseley)
  • “Sherry or Vodka Martini?”: Kingsley Amis’s Plunge into Spy Fiction Spirit (Nadia Priotti)
  • Wanderings of an Irish Drunkard? Alcohol and Self-Staging in Brendan Behan’s Confessions of an Irish Rebel (Sarah Ritt)
  • The Role of Alcohol in After the Dance, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and Straight White Male (Rudolf Weiss)
  • Contributors
  • Series index

Introduction

Attempts by scholars, critics, and anthologists to approach the topic of drink and literature and the question of how far this is interconnected with the habits of the writers can be considered within the wider frame of what is called drinking studies. This is an interdisciplinary field which is a composite of numerous facets, the common denominator being the analysis of how drink has functioned and functions in the lives of individuals and communities, taking into consideration diverse contexts, perspectives and backgrounds connected with alcohol consumption (or abuse). Among numerous examinations within the field of drinking studies, the province of literary criticism offers interesting insights. Any critical debate in this respect inevitably focuses on two areas, the first one being the study of literature per se; the other encompasses the writers’ lives and the extent to which their drinking affects their writing. Thus, the perspective can be critical, biographical, or both, reflecting what is often referred to as life-writing, or self-writing. In some instances, one might even risk calling it inspirational writing, and in these cases, one needs to debate the question of how alcohol as a source of inspiration – or “booze as a muse” – is perceived.

There are many examples among the men and women of letters who have committed themselves as much to literary creation as to alcoholic intoxication. Modern literature boasts a long list of writers who drew their inspiration from drink. In the field of Anglophone literature, the writers whose lives were particularly drink-soaked are predominantly American figures: Charles Bukowski, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Parker, or Patricia Highsmith – to name just a few conspicuous examples. Britain, however, is not far behind in this respect, with writers such as Dylan Thomas, Patrick Hamilton, or Jean Rhys. And one must not forget the Irish tradition of booze as a muse, encompassing writers such as James Joyce and Flann O’Brien.

Some of these names denote heavy drinkers, and there are numerous members of the literary fraternity whose lives were as dramatic as their alcoholic fiction, such as the author of the iconic The Lost Weekend, Charles Jackson, who sought help with Alcoholics Anonymous and experienced such extreme states of alcohol-related problems as the DTs. By the same token, Malcolm Lowry, whose novel Under the Volcano is a harrowing portrayal of alcoholic degradation, would drink anything that contained alcohol just to satiate his Gargantuan alcoholic appetite.

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As has been said, the biographical focus is one possibility for a scholar who studies the literary and cultural aspects of “booze as a muse”; the other is the analysis of works in which alcohol plays a prominent role, both in convivial contexts, as well as those which render the very opposite, such as the behavioral patterns of heavy drinkers, and the devastating pictures of alcoholics who ruin their lives and turn into a nightmare the lives of others. In this respect, literature mirrors two commonplace truths, namely that excessive drink consumption generates despair, personal struggle and moral decline. Conversely, if not consumed in excess, however, alcohol is a catalyst of social interaction, and people who meet and drink together enter a sphere of mutual bonding and friendship, all of which may be considered a driving force of human socialization and acculturation.

The present volume comprises a selection of critical approaches which touch upon most of the aspects mentioned above. The focus is predominantly on the field of Anglophone literature, but inclusive of perspectives offered by other literatures, as is the case with Ana Došen’s article, “Drinking with Dazai: From Being Spun to Becoming Non-Human,” which discusses one of the most eminent Japanese writers, Osamu Dazai. Došen explores Dazai’s “autobiographical fiction” with the focus on his characters’ drinking habits which serve as a remedy to a world of humiliation, desolation and despair. Additionally, the article offers an insight into the writer’s own intemperance in relation to his writing and motivation to stray away from societal conventions. In “Drinking an Identity: The Nature of Addiction in Péter Hajnóczy’s Death Rode out from Persia,” Kristóf Kiss discusses drinking and writing as motifs structuring one of the most famous Hungarian novellas thematizing addiction. Kiss’s article aims to investigate whether and in what ways it is possible to construct a “writing identity” through drinking, taking into account that intoxication is often presented as pharmakon to inspiration, while ecstasy is staged as the “other” haunting the self. Finally, Dieter Fuchs fuses Irish and Austrian literature in “James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, and the Viennese Boozer Known as ‘Lieber Augustin’.” His article presents a set of Joycean allusions to a famous Viennese wine drinker who may be considered an Austrian counterpart of the Irish ballad hero Tim Finnegan, who inspired Joyce’s Finnegans Wake published in 1939: the jolly bagpiper and notorious wine drinker Marx Augustin, whose will to live heartened the inhabitants of Vienna in the plague year of 1679 as a symbol of coping with, and surviving, the collective trauma of the “black death.”

The impressive contribution into the realm of drink literature by American writers, especially those (in)famous for their drinking capacity, is acknowledged in two articles. In the first one, “Martini vs. Grappa: The Functions of Alcohol in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms,” Silvia Ammary focuses on Ernest ←8 | 9→Hemingway’s fiction, filled with episodes about drinkers, types of drinks, and drunken characters, and argues that the names of drinks and their types are not chosen randomly, but they have specific literary functions in the texts. Ernest Hemingway’s fiction is also the focus of Teodora Domotor’s article, “Neutralizing Anxiety in Europe – Expatriation and Alcohol in Hemingway’s Short Stories.” Domotor investigates the narrative representation and importance of drinking in Hemingway’s short story collection entitled In Our Time. She demonstrates that, for an American man, the best way to reduce anxiety in the long term and thus improve his quality of life is to incorporate such a habit as drinking into his routine that essentially diverts his attention from failure and lacking.

References to American writers can be found in Merritt Moseley’s “The Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive: Dylan Thomas and the Legend of the Drunken Bard,” but the focal point here is the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Moseley argues that from the long list of drunken writers, if there is one name that stands out beyond any other it is Dylan Thomas. From his prodigious appearance as a brilliant poet in his teens to his death at 39 after a drinking bout, he became almost as well known for his boozing as for his writing. With his genius, his uncontrollable drinking and his early death, Thomas makes a good test case for exploring the relationship between art and alcohol. British literature is also the focus of “‘Sherry or Vodka Martini?’: Kingsley Amis’s Plunge into Spy Fiction Spirit,” in which Nadia Priotti discusses the arch-boozer of the English letters, Kingsley Amis. Priotti focuses on Amis’s relationship with the literature of espionage in an attempt to show how the representation of the secret agent is conveyed through the character’s attitude to drinking, as a way of disclosing his identity and outlook on life. The main works analyzed in the article are The James Bond Dossier, The Anti-Death League and Amis’s own James Bond adventure, written under pseudonym, Colonel Sun.

The discussion of drink in literature would not be representative without the Irish and Scottish perspectives included. The first one can be found not only in Joyce’s Hiberno-Austrian alcoholic exchange reconstructed by Fuchs but, first of all, in Sarah Ritt’s “Wanderings of an Irish Drunkard? Alcohol and Self-Staging in Brendan Behan’s Confessions of an Irish Rebel.” The article focuses on Brendan Behan’s two autobiographical novels: Borstal Boy and Confessions of an Irish Rebel. Ritt analyses how Behan, having been an alcoholic most of his life, but never able to escape it, pictures alcohol as a staple of Irish social life and thereby downplays its negative consequences of which he himself was the best example, being infamously drunk in public and dying at only 41 from the consequences of his drink problem. The Scottish angle is discussed in Wojciech Klepuszewski’s “Ballade of Good Whisky: Scottish uisge beatha in Literature,” whose focus is ←9 | 10→whisky, the national drink of Scotland, and the way it is portrayed in literary works, predominantly in fiction. The article presents different contexts in which whisky functions in literary texts, the choice ranging from Hugh MacDiarmid’s poetry to contemporary Scottish crime fiction.

Lastly, Booze as a Muse presents three articles which escape a simple category. The first one, “The Role of Alcohol in After the Dance, Long Days Journey into Night, and Straight White Male” by Rudolf Weiss, considers alcohol as an aesthetic agent, exploring the correlation between intoxication and creativity. Weiss’s discussion comprises Terence Rattigan’s quasi-Fitzgeraldian play After the Dance, which focuses on alcohol as a life-giving and a life-taking force; Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, which explores the author’s traumatic family history, steeped in alcohol and morphine; and John Niven’s novel Straight White Male, in which the writer-alcohol intersection is moved to the intratextual level altogether. In the second article, “Lawrence Osborne: Boozehound’s Travelogues,” Wojciech Klepuszewski discusses Osborne’s alco-travelogue, The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker’s Journey, which contrasts the Islamic world and Western culture in the context of alcohol consumption. The aim of this chapter is to show that Osborne reveals the truth about his personal drinking background in an attempt to uncover the truth about alcohol culture in countries where it is perceived as an evil symbol of the Western world. Finally, in “Harnessing the Spirit. An Examination of Alcohol’s Inspirational Role in Creative Writing,” Matthew Leroy, starting from the premise that spirit, both metaphysical and distilled, can be volatile and divine, and the word itself connotes the inspirational, examines the role alcohol plays in the creative portion of the writing process and gives examples found in twentieth-century literature.

The editors of this essay collection hope that this volume, in an obviously limited capacity, will be a chance to (re)consider both drink-focused fictional and nonfictional texts, as well as contemplate the interrelation between drink and writer, most of all within the literary context, but not entirely free of a biographical angle.

Dieter Fuchs, Wojciech Klepuszewski, Matthew Leroy

Details

Pages
194
Year
2021
ISBN (ePUB)
9783631847657
ISBN (MOBI)
9783631847664
ISBN (PDF)
9783631847640
ISBN (Hardcover)
9783631829547
DOI
10.3726/b18055
Language
English
Publication date
2021 (June)
Published
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 194 pp., 2 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Dieter Fuchs (Volume editor) Wojciech Klepuszewski (Volume editor) Matthew Leroy (Volume editor)

Dieter Fuchs is Assistant Professor of English Literature and Cultural Studies at the Department of English and American Studies of the University of Vienna and the Head of the Vienna Centre for Irish Studies. His main research areas include Shakespeare and early modern studies; James Joyce and high modernism; Irish studies; the campus novel. Wojciech Klepuszewski is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Humanities, Koszalin University of Technology, Poland. His research interests include poetry, academic fiction and, most recently, alcohol(ism) in literature. Matthew Leroy is a lecturer and doctoral candidate at the Department of English and American Studies at the University of Vienna. His fields of research are migration, and cultural studies with a particular interest in Australian studies. He is also the president of the Australian Academic Circle – a Vienna-based network of academics with connections to Australia.

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Title: Booze as a Muse: Literary and Cultural Studies of Drink