38: Literary Drinking: Alcohol in the Lives and Work of Writers

Booze as muse or a sure road to ruin? In this month’s episode, William Palmer – author of In Love with Hell: Drink in the Lives and Work of Eleven Writers – and Henry Jeffreys – author of Empire of Booze and The Cocktail Dictionary – join the Slightly Foxed team to mull over why alcohol is such an enduring feature in literature. 

From the omnipresence of cocktails in John Cheever’s short stories and ritual aperitifs in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels to Mr Picksniff falling into Mrs Todger’s fireplace in Martin Chuzzlewit and P. G. Wodehouse’s hangover remedies for booze-soaked Bertie Wooster, drinks are social signifiers in fiction. Charles Dickens was fond of sherry cobblers and Jean Rhys knocked back Pernod in Paris, while Malcolm Lowry was a dipsomaniac and Flann O’Brien dreamed up alcoholic ink for the Irish Times, rendering readers drunk from fumes. We ask why gin denotes despair and port is always jovial, and question whether hitting the bottle helps or hinders the creative process in writers.

Following a convivial sherry, we’re whisked away on a wet-your-whistle-stop tour of drinking dens with our friends at London Literary Tours, barrelling from bars propped up by Oscar Wilde to the follies of Dylan Thomas at Soho’s French House via Ian Fleming’s Vesper cocktail at Dukes. And we finish with a final round of reading recommendations, visiting a whisky distillery in Pakistan in Lawrence Osbourne’s The Wet and the Dry, enjoying Happy Hour with Marlowe Granados and stopping for a nightcap at Kingsley Amis’s ghostly local The Green Man.

(Episode duration: 41 minutes; 16 seconds)

Books Mentioned
We may be able to get hold of second-hand copies of the out-of-print titles listed below. Please get in touch with Jess in the Slightly Foxed office for more information.

Related Slightly Foxed Articles
  • The Smoking Bishop, William Palmer on drinking and drunkenness in Dickens, Issue 16 (8:52)
  • On the Randy Again, William Palmer on Dylan Thomas, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, Issue 30 (3:41)
  • Cheers!, Henry Jeffreys on Bernard DeVoto, The Hour & Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking, Issue 68 (4:45)
  • A Quare One, Patrick Welland on the novels of Flann O’Brien, Issue 41 (6:40)
  • Voyage in the Dark, Patricia Cleveland-Peck on the novels of Jean Rhys, Issue 4 (10:22)
  • With a Notebook and a Ukelele, Gordon Bowker on the stories of Malcolm Lowry, Issue 37 (19:46)
  • A Visit from God, William Palmer on Kingsley Amis, The Green Man, Issue 20 (35:09)

Other Links

Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No.3 in E Major by Bach

The Slightly Foxed Podcast is hosted by Philippa Lamb and produced by Podcastable

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