Alcoholic Authors

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The prominence of alcoholism in American literature, at least in the first half of the twentieth century, and the relationship between great authors and alcoholism has become somewhat of a literary cliché. Icons such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Jack Kerouac are as famous for their work as they are infamous for their drinking habits. These authors have created a legend out of themselves just from their notorious habits of drinking. Of the seven native-born Americans awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, five were alcoholics. The list of other twentieth-century American writers also affected with alcoholism is very long. I researched these authors’ lives to find out how they all were infected with the same disease, alcoholism. Some said that drinking boosted their creative abilities, while others thought of it more of an escape from the confines of their own imagination, to which they were bound for all hours of the day. Drinking does fit the loner lifestyle that many of these authors had. It was viewed as a cure for writers block, an escape from their own minds, and most importantly, as a tool to cure the emotional hardships that they endured. It is not a coincidence that the greatest writers and artists also had very troubled childhoods and adult lives. Look at Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Van Gogh; both were both severely troubled emotionally and depressed, and yet they still produced artistic and literary genius. So what is this connection between alcoholism and the great authors of the early 19th century? I will take an in-depth look at a few of the most influential alcoholic authors, such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe, and Tennessee Williams. I will look at factors that may have led them to their alcoholic habits, such as their childhood, troubled lives, or depression. From there, I will then look at how alcohol affected their works, positively or negatively. And as we all know, alcoholism was also double-edged sword that led to the destruction of their careers, and ultimately to their deaths. "I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom." This quote by Edgar Allan Poe perfectly depicts why many of these great authors fell back into the grasp of alcoholism. Many were troubled spirits who had tough lives, and used alcohol as an escape from their woes. Poe’s depression was caused by his alcoholic father, the death of both of his mothers, the death of his loving wife, the separations of his siblings, and an abusive foster father. No doubt, these losses and hardships sculpted Poe into who he was as a person and author. He relied heavily on alcohol to ease his pain. Another notable case of hardships and emotional struggle that led to alcoholism was Tennessee Williams. As a child he was exposed to a very problematic family. His hard-drinking father favored his brother, as Williams was sensitive and seemed to be homosexual at a very young age. He was closest to his sister Rose, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized. Later on, he had troubles dealing with his sexuality, which led to heavy drug and alcohol abuse. He married Frank Merlo, whom provided balance to his bouts of rage and alcoholic abuse. Williams sunk into even deeper depression after Merlo left him, because of his alcoholism. Williams won the Pullitzer Prize for Drama after writing, A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948. He wrote this largely based off of events from his own life, most vividly portraying his alcoholic habits through Stanley. Another example of a great author whose troubled life had led him to become an alcoholic is Ernest Hemingway. Like Williams, he was also an award-winning author...
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