Today’s Book-of-the-Day is The Thirsty Muse: Alcohol and the American Writer by Tom Dardis. The book examines the influence of alcohol on so many American authors. And the list is incredibly long. Five of the seven (at the time of publication) American Nobel laureates–Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck–were alcoholic. Similarly afflicted writers include Jack London, Edna St. Vincent Millay, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hart Crane, Thomas Wolfe, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Parker, Ring Larnder, Djuna Barnes, John O’Hara, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, James Jones, John Cheever, Truman Capote, Raymond Carver, Robert Lowell, and James Agee.
The Thirsty Muse focuses most specifically on four of the most famous: Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and O’Neill. Basing the study on recent research into alcoholism, Dardis explores hereditary and environmental influences and the ultimate burn-out and self-destruction of these authors.
The romantic stereotype of the tortured artist, pounding the keyboard with a bottle on the desk beside the typewriter, but it’s an image that Dardis suggests is ultimately dangerous. Although Faulkner did, in his early days, tell an interviewer that he always kept his whiskey in reach when he wrote, he also suffered convulsive seizures, underwent electroshock therapy, and was hospitalized numerous times later in life. Dardis argues that the reliance on alcohol not only destroys the author, but the art.
I think The Thirsty Muse: Alcohol and the American Writer by Tom Dardis is out of print. But you can find used copies on Amazon here. The copy I have in front of me was published by Cardinal, but Ticknor & Fields and Abacus also released editions of this fine book.