The Existential drinker

By Steven Earnshaw

The Existential drinker


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9961-8
  • Pages: 288
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: October 2018
  • BIC Category: Literature & literary studies / Literature: history & criticism, PHILOSOPHY / Movements / Existentialism, LITERARY CRITICISM / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Illness & Addiction: Social Aspects, Humanities / Social & cultural history, Literature, Phenomenology & Existentialism, Food & drink: alcoholic beverages


Drinking to excess has been a striking problem for industrial and post-industrial societies - who is responsible when an individual opts for a slow suicide? The causes of such drinking have often been blamed on genes, moral weakness, 'disease' (addiction), hedonism, and Romantic illusion. Yet there is another reason: the drinker may act with sincere philosophical intent, exploring the edges of self, consciousness, will, ethics, authenticity and finitude. Beginning with Jack London's John Barleycorn: alcoholic memoirs the book goes on to cover novels such as Jean Rhys's Good morning, midnight, Malcolm Lowry's Under the volcano, Charles Jackson's The lost weekend and John O'Brien's Leaving Las Vegas, and less familiar works such as Frederick Exley's A fan's notes, Venedikt Yerofeev's Moscow-Petushki, and A. L. Kennedy's Paradise.


'Earnshaw's book is a careful and well-documented study of a number of important literary works that are concerned with the drinking of alcohol, by the characters and/or by the authors. It is an interesting and readable, as well as important book.'
Bob Lane, Metapsychology online reviews, Vol. 23, Issue 11 (2019)


I Whiffs and gleams
1 Habitual drunkards and metaphysics: case studies from the Victorian period
2 Jack London, John Barleycorn (1913): truth
II The Existential drinkers
3 Jean Rhys and drunken consciousness (1929-1939)
4 Charles Jackson, The Lost Weekend (1944): life projects
5 Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano (1947).: singular experiences
6 Hans Fallada, The Drinker (1950): absurdity
7 Brian Moore, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955): abandonment
8 Frederick Exley, A Fan's Notes (1968): authenticity
9 Venedikt Yerofeev, Moscow-Petushki (1970): self and others
III Enough: attic, Vegas, paradise
10 William Kennedy, Ironweed (1983): fugitive souls and free spirits
11 John O'Brien, Leaving Las Vegas (1990): suicide
12 A. L. Kennedy, Paradise (2004): love


Steven Earnshaw is Professor of English Literature at Sheffield Hallam University

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