Hideous Absinthe: A History of the Devil in a Bottle
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Hideous Absinthe boldly combines the art, literature, science, and social history of the nineteenth century to produce the story of a drink that came to symbolize both the high points of art and the depths of degeneration.
Jad Adams looks at the myths of absinthe and examines its influence on the artistic movements of the nineteenth century. He considers the work of Degas, Manet, and Picasso, who painted what are now considered masterpieces depicting absinthe drinkers. He examines the mystery of van Gogh’s absinthe addiction and asks whether absinthe truly did contribute to the poetic vision of Verlaine, Rimbaud, and other writers.
Adams looks back at absinthe’s contribution to the hedonistic culture of the French Second Empire and to Toulouse-Lautrec’s Paris of the 1890s and details the outraged English reaction to absinthe in the context of resistance to French art. Absinthe was seen as a foreign poison undermining the national resolve just as the decadence of Oscar Wilde and his circle was seen to undermine national culture.
The story continues through thrill-seeking American and English absinthe drinkers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Copublished with I.B. Tauris.
The Wisconsin edition is for sale only in North America.
transformed from the green fairy, muse of artists, hymned by poets, aperitif of the middle class, to the poison of the haggard working class, responsible for all the ills of industrialisation. A bitter green liqueur had become ‘the scourge’, ‘the plague’, ‘the enemy’, ‘the queen of poisons’, blamed for the near collapse of France in the first weeks of the Great War and for the decadence threatening the British Empire.1 Absinthe was accused of filling the asylums, of the murder of whole families,
Algeria and the idle bourgeoisie consumed this queer drink that smelled strongly of toothpaste. The bad example came from above: little by little absinthe was democratised.’ Now, he worried, the scent of aniseed was everywhere.22 By 1876, the time of Degas’s painting, all the elements of the absinthe story were in place: it was the hallucinogen for artists, the poison for the poor, and the sophisticated drink for the bourgeoisie. There was also the dreadful but unconfirmed fear that absinthe
drinking as a student when he had the familiar experience of feeling so ill that he swore never to drink to excess again. Alcoholism for him was a form of poisoning, though until late in the nineteenth century he did not include wine and beer as a cause of alcoholism. The confusion surrounding drinking in general was manifest at the ceremony in France awarding Huss a special prize for his contribution to medical science, at which it was said from the platform, ‘There may be a good many drunkards
pocket and stabbed Verlaine’s wrists deeply. Cros withdrew his hands so he was not hurt, and Verlaine went off with Rimbaud, who later that night stabbed him twice in the thigh for his devotion. This was one evening when Verlaine went home to his wife, and Mathilde dressed his wounds. Such passionate affairs as that between Verlaine and Rimbaud were not limited to a homosexual sub-culture, and absinthe was frequently cited as a factor in relationships where there was violence. The novelist
The absinthe lobby protests the ban: the great days of the founding of the Swiss Confederation are contrasted with the murder of the green fairy by a ghoulish puritan. Louche twenty-first-century absinthe drinkers on the green promotional bus with the destination sign ‘Oblivion’. viii Acknowledgements An Authors’ Foundation grant was gratefully received, allowing me to travel for research to Auvers-sur-Oise and to Pontarlier. Julie Peakman from the Wellcome Institute kept me company here as