Edgar Allan Poe and Gothic Booze

Edgar Allan Poe; portrait by Gabriel Harrison, 1896

Few writers are remembered so distinctively as Poe, whose haunting tales of dungeons and macabre characters in distress were extremely influential on writers in America and abroad. Many American writers up to the mid-twentieth century were quite addicted to alcohol, and Poe was no exception. One perceptive writer, in fact, termed him the chairman of the board of American writers with a fondness for drink, and such a title deserves some merit. Poe’s humble origins and distinctive upbringing both had a hand in making him the unique writer that he became, an uncommon individual who merits attention as an exclusive voice in literature.

Poe was born as the second child of two actors in Boston, Massachusetts, who could not afford to raise him so that he became the ward of a couple in Richmond Virginia.  Mr. Allan, the source of Poe’s middle name, was a bit strict with his young charge, and alternated between being his charge’s savior and a strict disciplinarian. The young man’s journey to adulthood consisted of a series of unfinished alliances, including a military academy, the Army, the University of Virginia and West Point. Alcohol, drugs and gambling contributed to his inability to achieve success with established institutions, leaving him alone to his own solitary reminiscences. Alcoholism, as a disease, is very creative in nature, as liquor has a different effect on the person who imbibes it, making them addicted not only to the physical consumption of liquor, but also to the all powerful feelings that it produces. Yet such feelings are at variance with reality, for the imbiber is not really so powerful as a number of drinks makes them feel. Thus there is a constant struggle of the tension, the imminent doom, the possibility of impending disaster that this strange consciousness produces. As a professional adult, Poe worked for a series of different literary magazines, but was forever quitting in a huff because he supposed that he was responsible for the magazine’s great increase in circulation, but did not share in the profits. Near his mortal end, Poe was attempting to establish his own magazine, where he would have to hated boss to struggle with, but passed on before it became a reality. It is not, of course, Poe’s professional life that makes him still a household world, but his eerie tales and poems, like the Raven, the Tell-Tale Heart, Masque of the Red Death, the Pit and the Pendulum and many others.

Such stories and poems are left to the ages, and his writings have been very influential on countless writers. Here is an example of one that you might enjoy.

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Drinking Writers: Ernest Hemingway

In his time, Hemingway was the public epitome of the writer with a wild side. He hunted lions, he boxed, and he traveled the world. His first novel, The Sun Also Rises, defined the Lost Generation, the fashionable expatriates who enjoyed the Paris nightlife scene to the utmost. A closer look at Hemingway’s life, however, reveals more troubling details. Later life pictures of the great writer show a bump on his upper forehead. He received this when, seated on the commode of his Paris lodgings, he repeatedly pulled what he thought to be the chain the upper water chamber to flush it, but it didn’t work. It was actually the chain to a window in the wrought iron glass ceiling, and Hemingway stood up in frustration and jumped up in the air to put his whole body weight into the effort, bringing the entire ceiling down upon his head.

His adult life was filled with the adventures brought on by such excessive drinking, occasionally resulting in unexpected disasters that happen to tipsy individuals. Hemingway was part of what people thought was the image of the great partying intellectual, and hard drinking writers were the order of the day. If you look at major American writers of the first half of the twentieth century, there are only a handful who were not hard drinkers. A closer look at Hemingway’s life, however, tears down the notion that this was a happy way to live. His son testified that the best time he ever had with his father was when they drank a pitcher or two of martinis and then went out and shot dozens of flamingos that surrounded Ernest’s Cuban residence. The creation of such an unnerving mess is an example of the type of behavior that made it difficult for him to keep a wife. Lillian Ross spent a weekend with him to write an unflattering profile of him in the New Yorker, where she found the legendary writer to be a perpetually inebriated, moody and somewhat obnoxious man. Such conduct also brought a gradual decline in Hemingway’s writing, which was most unfortunate for such a talented man. The novel that has been most often assigned by some English teachers was The Old Man and the Sea, a depressing piece filled with self pity about the struggles of an old man to catch a fish.

Fortunately, however, the American literary scene has grown out of its affection for the hard drinking writer, and noted writers of today are more likely to be ones who have given up the consumption of alcohol to resuscitate their lives. The observer of the drunk has a much better perspective on the nature of life than the drunk himself.

‘Which wine goes best with ‘the old man and the sea’?’

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