Thursday 8 December 2016

Mary Kenny: does dry January = dry spell?

Examining the relationship between creativity and alcohol

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny

Hands up anyone who's quitting alcohol for the month of January? Oh, yes, I can see there are quite a few. It's a fashionable practice among the young crowd - post-Christmas is the new Advent, you might say. Give the liver a month's rest. And it's proof you aren't an alcoholic.

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Although it's also sometimes said that "going on the dry" for a month or so can be a sign of being an alcoholic. So you can't win. But you're in good company. What's astonishing is the number of creative people, particularly writers, who have been self-destructive topers.

We know about Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas - both perishing before their time because of the eggnog - but the list of great writers enslaved by the bottle is formidable. James Graham, in his astonishing book, The Secret History of Alcohol provides the following roll-call of American authors who were certified dipsomaniacs: Edgar Allan Poe (a desperate case), Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O'Neill (whose family life was ruined by liquor), Edna St Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker (whose talent was corroded by the drink), F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John O'Hara, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, EE Cummings, Edmund Wilson, James Thurber, Jack London, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, William Saroyan, Irwin Shaw, Raymond Chandler.

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