Bacchus in Romantic England: Writers and Drink, 1780-1830

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Although many books have studied writers and alcohol in modern American literature, the rich culture of drinking and the many poems and narratives about it in the Romantic period in England have been entirely neglected. Bacchus in Romantic England: Writers and Drink 1780-1830 is the first study to describe the bulk and variety of writings about drinking; to set these poems, novels, essays, letters and journals in a historical, sociological, and medical context; to demonstrate the importance of drunkenness in the ...
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Overview

Although many books have studied writers and alcohol in modern American literature, the rich culture of drinking and the many poems and narratives about it in the Romantic period in England have been entirely neglected. Bacchus in Romantic England: Writers and Drink 1780-1830 is the first study to describe the bulk and variety of writings about drinking; to set these poems, novels, essays, letters and journals in a historical, sociological, and medical context; to demonstrate the importance of drunkenness in the works of a number of major and minor writers of the period; and to suggest that during these years, for a short time, the pleasures and pains of drinking are held in a vivacious balance. The book argues that the figure of the drinker tests the margins of the human being, either as a beast, savage, or thing or, on the other edge of the human range, as a free, inspired spirit.
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Editorial Reviews

Romanticism on the Net
...we should be thankful for a brilliantly-informed and intelligent study like Anya Taylor's...
Studies in Romanticism
Taylor's work is an engaging pice of cultural history and close textual analysis, appealing to students, teachers and scholars alike.
Booknews
Taylor (English, City U. of New York) places the literary handling of drinking in the context of alcoholism, a disease invented during the period by doctors and philanthropists. Considers Wordsworth's assessments of Burn's career, Coleridge's drinking songs and social commentary, Keats' Dionysian dispute with Milton's temperance, the increasingly outspoken battle between drinking men and disgusted women in novels by Charlotte Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft, and other instances. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
British Assoc. of Romantic Studies
The book covers all aspects of contemporary discourse on the subject, delivering both historical analysis and close textual readings in a lucid, easy style. . . .Taylor's book offers a fresh and highly informed perspective on a distinct cultural phenomenon that was, and for that matter still is, a vexed moral problem.
Choice
Judiciously argued and free from post-modern jargon, Taylor's study adds an important dimension to the understanding of British Romanticism.
Dionysos
Two excellent essays by Anya Taylor in this area should have prepared us for her careful reading of drink in the Romantic period . . . .Taylor offers us a wider field of writing and new textual focus-points for the period: the medical literature (Thomas Beddoes, Anthony Carlisle, Robert MacNish) and prose by Francis Place and Basil Montagu. In the case of the canonic writers, she assembles rich and various alcoholic archives. As she says, "When Keats's many references to wine, the gods of wine, and the effects of wine are brought together . . for the first time, the sheer number of them indicates Keats's concern with the sensations and state of drunkenness." The most interesting part of the book is its family structure, which consists of a central cluster. . . . The writing is crisp, and the book is a pleasure to read. (Dionysos: Journal of Literature and Addiction)
European Romantic Review
How can a writer make room for such enjoyment without diminishing the importance of the dangers? Anya Taylor achieves this balance in her study of alcohol in the Romantic period by making the double nature of drink a central theme. In this way her book can be filled to the brim with boisterous drinking songs and heady descriptions (from Coleridge, Keats, Burns, and more), even as it reconsiders the role alcohol plays in some of the era's most remarkable wastes of talent (Hartley Coleridge, Charles Lamb). What emerges from Taylor's study is a profound consideration of the "doubleness" within human beings, which the cultural and physiological power of alcohol allows her to examine. . . . Taylor writes with admirable warmth and versatility, vigorously searching for what can be learned from the dynamics of alcoholism and dependency, always mindful of the mysteries involved. . . .Taylor lets some depths, both of self-destructiveness and of bliss, remain unfathomed, and this reserve is one of the book's great virtues.
New Books in 19th Century Studies
Bacchus in Romantic England is a welcome and illuminating study of drinking in the period. The levels of euphemism used by the male writers, which Taylor disinters and closely examines in the light of women's straightforward writing about drunkards and drinking, reveal themselves to be a code of masculinity by which social classes of men reify themselves. . . A sound and valuable addition to a Romantic scholar's bookshelf.
Romanticism on the Net 17
There is a fascination with the relationship between writing and drinking, and a persistent belief that creativity and the Dionysian are bequeathed to us as a bond formed in antiquity: if it is not the object of this study to cure us of this belief, it is certainly Anya Taylor's intention that we question it more fully. . . . [Taylor] moves with ease from the examination of biography to literary texts, letters and notebooks; she is philosophically informed and attuned to the concerns of social history, while remaining consistently literary critical. Although a concern with the instability of identity brought about by drunkenness persists as a theoretical question, Taylor also demonstrates that this problem was being seriously informed by medical investigation for the first time. . . .This issue is all too frequently dismissed as obvious or archaic, and we should be thankful for a brilliantly-informed and intelligent study like Anya Taylor's, which will inaugurate serious discussion of a subject that has too long been trivialised by generalization.
Sewanee Review
Taylor also provides an original and illuminating survey of the medical literature in which, beginning in the 1780's, the modern concept of inebriety as a disease (rather than a moral failure) was crystallizing. Taylor's thesis is that this model of inebriety as an emerging disease, together with a new psychology of interiority, combined to give drinking a complex doubleness in the romantic period.. . . Taylor is especially good at separating the drunken from the drug-addictive strands of Coleridge himself and in tracing the fatal implication of his son Hartley in his father's excesses. Another contribution is her contrasting male and female attitudes toward inebriation.. . . This bifurcation along the lines of gender has persisted into the twentieth century, and Taylor's engaging book also casts indirect light on those modern writers who have embraced the romantic agony of intoxication.
The Wordsworth Circle
This 'double power' of Dionysus has cleverly been adopted as the presiding spirit of Bacchus in Romantic England. . .Apart from its structure, the great strength of this book is its marvelously diverse, offbeat, and informative reading. . . . Although it does exactly what it says on the title-page, Bacchus in Romantic England tells us about rather more than "Writers and Drink, 1780-1830." It includes a history of alcohol production and consumption in the later eighteenth century. . . . The collection of names in this rich, original, and expansive study is more like a rollcall of honour than a burial of the dead.
Times Literary Supplement
Anya Taylor opens Bacchus in Romantic England, her study of drinking in the literature of the Romantics, by demonstrating that alcohol was every bit as much of a problem during this period as in those immediately before and after. Writers such as Basil Montagu and Francis Place were driven to analyse the drunkenness they saw about them, and doctors wrote for the first time about the way the abuse of alcohol led to crime and physical illness. . . . As well as being a professor of English, Anya Taylor teaches in an alcohol and substance abuse programme, and she has put her knowledge and experience to good use in examining the careers of Romantic drunks. . . .extremely readable. . .fascinating.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312214999
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1998
  • Series: Romanticism in Perspective Series
  • Pages: 278
  • Product dimensions: 5.73 (w) x 8.81 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Anya Taylor is Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
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Table of Contents

List of Plates
Acknowledgements
Abbreviations
Introduction 1
1 Dionysian Myths and Alcoholic Realities 5
2 Romantic Homage to the Dionysian Burns: Wordsworth and Others 32
3 Fragmented Persons: Charles Lamb, John Woodvil and 'Confessions of a Drunkard' 61
4 Coleridge and Alcohol: Songs and Centrifuges 93
5 In the Cave of the Gnome: Hartley Coleridge 126
6 'Joy's Grape': Keats, Comus, and Paradise Lost IX 157
7 Bacchus Contra Venus: Alcoholic Husbands and Their Wives 191
Notes 223
Index 259
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