Famous Writers Famous Poisons – Part 1
From writing desks to the warfront, party corners to country home porches writers have often had a deep yet troubled relationship with alcohol. Hemingway notably said that he was most at home on a barstool, while Bukowski considered liquor a life-long mistress.
While no one condemns the occasional libation, a growing addiction resulted in divorces, ruined careers – for some even masterpieces – while death came for others. Before examining the reason behind why writers have tendencies of developing addictions in the first place, we wanted to have a brief trip through the lives of some of our favourite literary heroes and heroines.
Is it possible to even talk about writers who loved to drink without mentioning Hemingway? The answer is a slurred but resounding no. Famously quoted as saying ‘A man does not exist until he is drunk’, Ernest Hemingway enjoyed many a tryst with liquor from his time in Paris to Havana. However, he never mixed alcohol with his writing endeavours.
In an interview when asked if he drank martinis before work he said, “Jeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes – and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one. Besides, who in hell would mix more than one martini at a time?”
He’s often associated with a mojito or a frozen daiquiri (particularly owing to his love for Cuba) but owing to his diabetic troubles this is more myth than fact. He preferred a dry martini – or, at best, a daiquiri without sugar.
Often touted as a womaniser and generally heavy drinker, Dylan Thomas is another prominent member of the Liquor Lovers Club that can (and rightly should) be considered a literary/poetic genius. For someone who met his future wife in a bar, spending many years to come together in bars, he too never sat down at his writing desk with a drink. As he was building up a reputation for his work, the drinks and favours came easier for Dylan and Caitlin, yet he reserved his sobriety for his work alone – even after they had children.
Caitlin wrote, “But what were we really like underneath the alcohol? The truth is that I have not got a glimmering of a clue. And I still cannot get at it – not the whole truth, only little bits, stray fragments that emerge from out of an impenetrable barrier of alcohol . . . I never really knew Dylan.” He collapsed and died at the age of 39, 16 years into their marriage, while Caitlin was so inebriated she had to be restrained by a straightjacket.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
‘First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.’
Fitzgerald’s troubled relationship with alcohol ran in tandem with the end of the war and a rocky relationship with Zelda. Then came This Side of Paradise c. 1920, an immediate success that brought him the attention and wealth he had diligently worked toward. And with wealth came the newlyweds’ new penchant for high living. Scott became known as a playboy and drank heavily, supporting himself largely through short stories published in popular magazines and papers. Zelda and Scott found themselves so deeply entrenched in this decadent lifestyle that they crossed their means far too often.
The problem however had begun years before; F. Scott Fitzgerald was a heavy drinker as far back as 1916 when he was still at Princeton. Over the years the damage resulted in a gamut of health problems from fainting spells to aortic blockages. Between 1933 and 1937, Scott was hospitalized for alcoholism 8 times and thrown in jail on many more occasions and in a time when public declarations of alcoholism were looked down upon, this was a significant blow to his image.