Gin: The Much Lamented Death of Madam Geneva, The Eighteenth Century Gin Craze


This book follows gin's introduction, its rise in popularity, the prohibition and the bootleg underground, straight on through to regulation and the big businesses that still dominate the industry today.

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This book follows gin's introduction, its rise in popularity, the prohibition and the bootleg underground, straight on through to regulation and the big businesses that still dominate the industry today.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This remarkable cultural history of England's 18th-century craze for gin-which first was called Geneva after the Dutch name for the juniper berries used to flavor the drink-is an illuminating trip through many layers of British society, from the heights of king and Parliament to the wasted thieves and whores in London gutters. After King William of Orange encouraged his Parliament in 1690 to pass an act encouraging the distilling of brandy and spirits from corn-a way of attacking France's lucrative brandy exports, as William was also declaring war on that country-it "opened the floodgates to the cheap spirits that were soon being sold in cellars and garrets all over London." Dillon deftly uses his skills as a novelist (Truth; Lies) to bring to life the half-century of debauchery that followed the 1690 acts in London, "where for a penny a dram, the poor man could fill his head with his own dreams; the market-woman could blank out the wet corner she sat on and fancy herself well-dressed, dry and feasting at Vauxhall pleasure gardens." More importantly for the success of this highly detailed and immensely engaging chronicle, Dillon is a superb researcher. Using contemporaneous newspaper accounts of notorious gin-induced crimes, Dillon tracks the ever-increasing rise in gin's popularity through numerous forms of social turmoil to a final acknowledgment "that Madam Geneva was here to stay, whatever ills she brought with her." Throughout, Dillon expertly displays the intricate connections between politics and business, pleasure and morality, public policy and illegal consumption. In an epilogue, Dillon carefully notes the similarities between the gin craze and such American phenomena as Prohibition and the current "war on drugs." (Feb.) Forecast: A stylish cover and an intriguing title may help move some extra copies of this sophisticated cultural history. The quality of the writing and research, however, are what truly make this work worthy of note, though it may suffer from the earlier publication of Jessica Warner's Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason (Forecasts, Aug. 5). Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Dillon's book is a detailed yet highly accessible account of the gin craze that overtook London in the 18th century. The author, a London architect and novelist, neatly illustrates the many manifestations of gin (also called Madam Geneva), from an acceptable drink introduced by William of Orange to a forbidden pleasure fueled by the economic insecurity to a commodity of big business. The landowners and distillers defended its production, as did the poor to whom it offered "comfort and oblivion." Dillon illustrates the arguments made by social reformers, such as the writer Henry Fielding, who abhorred gin and fought for its ban. Various measures were taken to control gin's use, such as paid informers, numerous Gin Acts, and attempts at prohibition, of which Dillon is quite critical. Interestingly, Dillon argues that gin's decline resulted less from legislation or social reform than from the rise of a more stable economy and a growing middle class. The author also compares more contemporary attitudes toward alcohol and drug use. A broader account than Jessica Warner's Craze: Gin and Debauchery in An Age of Reason, this work is recommended for all public libraries.-Isabel Coates, CCRA-Toronto West Tax Office, Mississauga, Ont. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From English historian, architect, and novelist Dillon, an admirable history of the London gin craze that tainted everyone involved. When William of Orange took the throne from James Stuart in the Glorious Revolution, things French and Catholic got their walking papers—among them brandy—and things Dutch were welcomed—among them gin. That clear, juniper-scented distillate took London by storm. Already pummeled by its political transformation, London was also "neurotic and violent," racked by great population growth, high and wild with gambling, stock-jobbing, debt-running, gangs, and prostitution. Gin was fuel to all these woes, but, to Dillon’s way of thinking, it also served to put a balm on all the uncertainty and risk of the times: it made life more palatable for those in a state of struggle even as it lined the pockets of land owners and the distillers. And it came, too, to line the pockets of corrupt excisemen, informers, and—for Madam Geneva had friends in high places—politicians themselves once the gin acts were instituted in a doomed and eerily familiar effort to exert control. Dillon ably brings into the picture what the writers of the times had to offer, from Smollet to Defoe to Fielding; the role of class distinction in gin’s rise and fall; the effects of the middle class and materialism on the drink; and the part Mother Nature played via harvest failures. He lauds the pragmatism of repealing the gin acts and draws the obvious parallels between those acts and our own war on drugs, which by the 1980s "was no longer about the social causes of drug abuse, nor about the safety of users. It was about enforcement." Every duck associated with the gin craze—lord, merchant, magistrate,family-values careerist, commoner, reformer, sot—is crisply lined up and then bowled over for the benefit of the self-righteousness, self-service, and self-destruction. (For another history of this "craze," see Jessica Warner’s Craze.) (8 b&w illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781932112009
  • Publisher: Justin, Charles & Co.
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.20 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2002

    Kittens and fluff

    I read this book when it first came out in the UK. It's OK as far as the details go, but it's cutsey to an extreme, with "Madam Gin" this and "Madam Gin" that. I think that the author is capable of writing decent fiction, but he's definitely out of his depth when it comes to writing serious social history.

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