EQUIVOCAL SPIRITS: Alcoholism and Drinking in Twentieth-Century Literature by Thomas B. Gilmore

EQUIVOCAL SPIRITS: Alcoholism and Drinking in Twentieth-Century Literature

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An exploration of alcoholism in the work of some major 20th-century writers, including Lowery, Waugh, O'Neill, Cheever, Bellow, Fitzgerald, Berryman, Amis, and Orwell. If there is a glue that holds these essays together, it is the quibble of Gilmore (English/Georgia State U.) with the one-dimensionality of the scientific view of the alcoholic. There is a stereotype that has developed of the writer/alcoholic (as Kazin has noted, five of the six American Nobel Prize winners in literature were either alcoholics or ""hard drinkers""). Literary biographers, the author argues, often cop out on the complexities of the alcoholic writer, while literary critics ignore the issue, since they ""naturally attend to what they know best, which is not alcoholism."" Gilmore takes the stand that good literature resists stereotyping the alcoholic, showing him rather as a figure divided into a welter of conflicting feelings. ""Much of the literature about alcoholism achieves great value when it directs our attention to the duality or equivocality of the spiritual dimension of drinking."" For instance, Sebastian Flyte, in Brideshead Revisited, gains a kind of topsy-turvy salvation out of his drinking disease that would be thoroughly denigrated by the lords of science. Stopping short of in vino veritas, Gilmore adds a new, noteworthy perspective to literary criticism.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1987
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina Press