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The existential drinker$
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Steven Earnshaw

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780719099618

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719099618.001.0001

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Habitual drunkards and metaphysics: case studies from the Victorian period

Habitual drunkards and metaphysics: case studies from the Victorian period

Chapter:
(p.45) 1 Habitual drunkards and metaphysics: case studies from the Victorian period
Source:
The existential drinker
Author(s):

Steven Earnshaw

Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7228/manchester/9780719099618.003.0002

Through four ‘case studies’ this chapter identifies behaviours, attitudes and representations which hint at the emergence of a new figure, and suggest significant moments in the transition from the nineteenth-century’s stereotyping of the habitual drunkard to the twentieth-century’s Existential drinker. Mary Thompson was a habitual drunkard discussed in a Parliamentary Report who rejected all attempts to make her respectable, preferring to live the life of a drunkard; George Eliot’s tale ‘Janet’s Repentance’ provides an unusually sympathetic religious/philosophical apprehension of somebody determined to drink; Zola’s novel L’Assommoir describes the drinker’s response to the modern, alienating city; van Gogh’s painting ‘Night Café at Arles’, along with a letter he wrote to his brother, introduces a self which is perched dangerously close to ruin, transformation, or oblivion. The figures encountered here, both real and fictional, are largely ‘ordinary’ people, rather than (Romantic) ‘others’ or self-avowed ‘philosopher-drinkers’, and offer glimpses of the themes and representations which in the twentieth century contribute to the figure of the Existential drinker that is discussed in the following chapters.

Keywords:   habitual drunkards, drunkenness, alcoholism, capitalism, alienation, ‘Janet’s Repentance’, L’Assommoir, Van Gogh, ‘Night Café at Arles’

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