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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

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

Steven Earnshaw

Manchester University Press

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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