America’s Love For Alcoholic Literature by Cindy Nichols
The mythos of the American writer sitting at his chair with a typewriter and a bottle of alcohol next to him has pervaded the literary scene for generations. Writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, Hunter S. Thompson, Hart Crane and F. Scott Fitzgerald have contributed to the reputation that in order to become a great American writer, one must also be a drunk. Or, as Hemingway himself said, “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”.
It comes as no surprise that alcohol played a role in the deaths of some of these famous authors. One notable author who died from alcohol poisoning was Robert Lewis Stevenson, who wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a story about a man who became a deformed human-like monster after drinking something strange he had concocted in a lab.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
The parallels between the transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde and the transformation some people have after drinking has been noted in the literary world, as well as having been used in the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous itself.
It has been suggested that Ernest Hemingway is really the one who started such a stigma. He felt that he was one of the kinds of authors who could actually handle his liquor, and chose not to really conceal the amount of liquor he was drinking; he felt it was nobody elses business. In every one of his books, several of the characters are heavy drinkers.
Take, for example, his famous novel Cannery Row, wherein the main character, Doc, buys a bottle of beer every night from the general store across the street from where he lives. And the vagrants who live near the same general store are always in search of money in order to buy liquor. One character in the group of vagrants even takes a job at the nearby bar just so he can bring home different cocktails of disposed liquor to his friends each night.
It has been noted that authors such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald suffered from depression and anxiety at a young age. Such ailments are alleviated by drinking and doing something productive such as writing. As a result, the two tended to go hand in hand. It can be speculated that this may be the cause of other writers having the reputation of being heavy drinkers.
Romantic Notion Of The Idea Of The Drunk
There is a romance around the idea of the drunk, famous author. It may almost seem as if in order to be a famous writer, one has to become a heavy drinker as well; heavy drinking and good writing would appear to go hand-in-hand.
But the lives some of these men lead were anything than romantic. Many had had several failed marriages, bore children who had to be the child of divorced parents, one of them being a heavy drinker, and other unattractive things as such. Heavy drinking leads to extreme isolation and bad health problems. Many of them attempted to get sober, some succeeding, and some failing.
It should be noted on the minds of the American literary scene that heavy drinking has a heavier cost than the benefit of being a good writer. One can only speculate as to what may exist nowadays if some of these people had in fact gotten sober or had never been heavy drinkers at all, what they would have made and how much more they could have contributed to the world.