The hangover in literature, from Shakespeare and Burns to Bridget Jones



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Jonathon Shears, Keele University

What a subject! And, in very truth, for once, a ‘strangely neglected’ one.

So Kingsley Amis began his famous 1971 essay on the hangover How different is our present moment, when it would be hard to find a media outlet on New Year’s Day not featuring an item about the effectiveness of remedies. Every age has its preferred cure: Pliny the Elder advocated raw owl’s eggs in wine. Shakespeare refers to “small ale”, which remained popular into the 19th century. The early 20th century was the golden age of hangover cocktails such as the Bloody Mary and the Prairie Oyster – but also of Alka-Seltzer. Amis recommends a “Polish Bison” – vodka mixed with hot Bovril.

Even scientists have got involved and hangover research is a subfield of medicine and psychology. Studies have explored links between hangover severity and alcohol use disorders, the hangover’s economic cost, the effectiveness of remedies and the ethical implications of a pharmaceutical cure.

The bad news is that, if you’re feeling unwell this morning, all reputable studies have shown that the only thing guaranteed to relieve symptoms is the passing of time.

To be fair, Amis never thought that remedies – and physical after-effects including headache, nausea and dehydration – had been ignored. What had really been neglected was what he termed the hangover’s “metaphysical superstructure”. That is all the emotional baggage that often follows drinking: guilt, shame, self-pity and the more nebulous “hangxiety”.




Read more:
What causes hangovers, blackouts and ‘hangxiety’? Everything you need to know about alcohol these holidays


Science can tell us why we feel sick after heavy drinking: dehydration, contracted blood vessels causing headaches and the build-up of acetaldehyde. But when a hangover makes us unwell we don’t just mean physical symptoms.

Science finds emotions less susceptible to measurement than physical effects. For the former, we require literature and the arts. Literature is an outlet for feeling, but also an expression of individual and cultural values. There is a surprisingly rich tradition of hangover literature in western culture – in writers as diverse as Shakespeare and Jane Austen, Robert Burns and George Eliot, Jean Rhys and Helen Fielding – that has been largely ignored and goes some way to explaining why hangovers might make us feel like mending our ways.

Hangover literature

In a 1791 epistle to Maria Riddell, a wretchedly hungover Burns apologises for an unwanted sexual advance on her sister-in-law. “I write you from the regions of hell, amid the horrors of the damned”, he begins, before bemoaning his “aching head reclined on a pillow of ever-piercing thorn”, and “an infernal tormentor” called “Recollection”.

Robert Burns: recollection seems to be the hardest word.
Alexander Nasmyth

This is penitent’s rhetoric, reminding us that Burns lived in rigidly moral Presbyterian Scotland. Pounding head and dehydration are just reprisal for his indiscretion and his letter is an apology for sinfulness. Shame is a powerful cultural force: if there is a cure here it will be found in forgiveness.

Hangovers often reveal the personal and social values that make us feel “bad”. In other words, the hangover is both a physical and cultural deterrent. Guilt and shame are not just nervous reflexes but part of a superstructure of values – Amis chose his words wisely – without which they cannot be understood.

Men and women

Science argues that hangover severity is different for men and women, focusing on metabolism and body mass. But surely the real differences are sociocultural? We could compare the hangovers of the alcoholic journalist, Peter Fallow, from Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), with those suffered by Helen Fielding’s ladette, Bridget Jones.

Bridget Jones the morning after the night before.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Universal Pictures)

When hungover, Fallow seeks penance through strenuous exercise: “Never again. He would begin an exercise regimen tonight. Or tomorrow, in any case.” Wolfe makes it evident that hangxiety is not free floating, but derives from Fallow’s impression of being culturally tarnished: “It wouldn’t be this pathetic American business of jogging, either. It would be something clean, crisp, brisk, strenuous … English.” The body is a site of cultural meaning.

Jones faces low self-esteem when hungover. Her worries superficially recall those of Fallow, but her negative self image involves the distinctive pressures put upon women to marry and have children. She obsesses about weight gain, her looks (“Oh why am I so unattractive? Why?”), her ability to attract a partner and her ticking body clock.

Family values

The hangover’s impact on family life has been the focus of hangover studies. Here literature also points us to cultural variables.

The wife who nags her husband for his drunken ways is a stock figure of comic fiction from the 16th century to the present day. John Taylor captures the type in his colourful Skimmington’s Lecture (1639):

What not a word this morning … have you lost your tongue, you may be ashamed, had you any grace in you at all, to bee such a common drunkard, a pisse-pot.

But in the Victorian period Janet Dempster in Eliot’s Janet’s Repentance (1857) tells us of a different domestic power dynamic. Because she is unable to reproach her abusive, though popular, husband, she drowns her sorrows. While Robert’s “good head” for drink is legendary, Janet’s hangovers mean she neglects housework and loses her “good” reputation. Her shame shows that she is held to a different set of standards than her husband, the “stigmatising subject position” of women drinkers. (Janet is, however, able to repent, while Robert ends up dying after delirium tremens.)

Cultural resistance

It is possible to defy moral judgement for our lack of self-care, wasted time or embarrassment. However, even the most rebellious of literature’s drinkers feel self-doubt bite during hangovers. Martin Amis’s John Self (Money, 1984), Alan Sillitoe’s Arthur Seaton (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 1958) and A. L. Kennedy’s Hannah Luckraft (Paradise, 2004) are notorious for recklessness and defiance when drunk. Their hangovers are, however, some of the most crippling in literature. Luckraft revels in blackouts and casual sexual encounters, but admits: “Inside, I am mostly built out of remorse.” Self’s hangovers are a necessary curb on a particularly toxic brand of masculinity. Seaton’s motto is “don’t let the bastards grind you down”, but the hangover of Sunday morning succeeds boozy Saturday nights and he eventually submits to marriage and a steady job.

Literature shows that hangovers are rarely just a collection of physical symptoms. A recent leader article in The Guardian was given the headline: “The Guardian view on the science of hangovers: no more research needed”. Perhaps we don’t need another article about the best remedies – but it is worth reflecting that there is much more to a hangover than bodily symptoms.

Hangover literature tells us quite a lot about our attitudes to alcohol, how they form and what they mean. This New Year, alongside the Bloody Mary, it might just be worth picking up a book. I don’t claim it will make anyone feel better, but it could help us understand a little more about why drinking often makes us feel bad about ourselves.The Conversation

Jonathon Shears, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, Keele University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mean Cats in Literature


The link below is to an article that looks at nine of the meanest cats in literature.

For more visit:
https://bookmarks.reviews/the-9-meanest-cats-in-literature/

How Capitalism Changed American Literature


The link below is to an article that takes a look at how capitalism has changed American literature.

For more visit:
https://www.publicbooks.org/how-capitalism-changed-american-literature/

How women and the moon intertwine in literature



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Sara Read, Loughborough University and Catie Gill, Loughborough University

In the late 17th century, the female English playwright Aphra Behn wrote a smash hit play about a man obsessed with the moon, who was constantly travelling there in his imagination. Exactly 282 years later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin actually made that dream a reality.

Their astonishing achievement on July 20, 1969 led some to worry that the moon would become an object of purely scientific study – a barren and lifeless body, no longer a source of romantic inspiration. Fortunately, this fear did not come to pass.

For example, in the year that marked the 40th anniversary of the landings ten years ago, the then poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy edited To the Moon: An Anthology of Lunar Poems which gathered together works from ancient to modern, and included her own poem, The Woman in the Moon.

And while no woman has yet stepped on to this celestial body, women have long been associated with the moon – with its tidal pull, and the binary thinking that places it secondary in majesty to the sun. It is no wonder, then, that the moon has stimulated some incredible literature by female writers.

The moon is often envisaged as a female entity, which inspired poems on the theme of her gaze as she looks down on Earth benignly. Way back in antiquity, the Greek poet Sappho did just this in her short song describing how:

When, round and full, her silver face, Swims into sight, and lights all space.

This trope continued for millennia and into the 19th century. Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) wrote The Mother Moon in 1856, imagining a benevolent maternal moon looking down on the Earth, occasionally hidden but ultimately undiminished by clouds. Also in the 19th century, American poet Emily Dickinson’s moon similarly shone “Her perfect Face Upon the World below”.

Duffy’s more recent poem contains these familiar elements, being written in the persona of a woman in the moon – one who is incredulous anyone could have believed instead in a man in the moon. The woman in the moon has spent millennia observing Earth and now implores those gazing up at her to reflect on the neglect humans have wrought on planet Earth, repeating the question “What have you done?”

Shining a light

Of course, not all female literary responses to the moon have been quite so lyrical. Aphra Behn’s hilarious farce The Emperor of the Moon, which took the London stage by storm, is one example. Behn was one of the first English women to earn a sustained living through writing, breaking social barriers and becoming a valued literary role model for later generations of women authors.

Based on a French source, but changed in many ways to make it Behn’s own, the play centres on a doctor, Baliardo, who is tricked into believing he is in the company of men from the moon.

Aphra Behn (1640-1689), the first known professional English female writer.
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He longs to know whether the moon has seas, why it shines so brightly, and whether there is proof to the theory that its atmosphere was so like the Earth’s that it, too, was inhabited.

The obsession makes him so gullible that when his daughter’s mischievous lover pretends to be the “Emperor Iredonzor”, and spouts clever sounding jargon in order to complete the disguise that he is an inhabitant of the moon descended to Earth, the doctor is convinced.

The fake emperor of the moon is then able to convince his future father-in-law that he is conferring a great honour on the family through a conjugal union with his daughter (who is in on the scheme). As the play finishes, the doctor realises that he has conceded to marry his daughter not to a superior creature from another planet, but to the fairly ordinary boy next door.

The farcical plot was spectacular and breathtaking in production and special effects. The original stage directions describe how:

The Globe of the Moon appears, first, like a new Moon; as it moves forward it increases, till it comes to the Full. When it is descended, it opens, and shows the Emperor and the Prince. They come forth with all their Train, the Flutes playing a Symphony before him, which prepares the Song.

We can only imagine the audience’s reaction, but the play was an enormous success, staged 130 times by 1749. If Behn had thoughts of space travel, too, she did not commit them to paper.

The 28 phases of the moon in a lunar month. Engraving by P. Miotte, 1646.
Wellcome Collection, CC BY

But perhaps as NASA ramps up preparations for further lunar exploration, the moon will move out of the purely imaginary. Maybe women will at last be among the exclusive number of humans to have stepped on to the moon and gazed back to Earth for themselves.The Conversation

Sara Read, Lecturer in English, Loughborough University and Catie Gill, Lecturer in English, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Archive of Sumerian Literature


The link below is to an archive website for Sumerian literature, one of the first known languages and some of the earliest known literature.

For more visit:
http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/

African elephants in literature — lessons in exploitation and compassion



File 20181031 76416 11d6v9z.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

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Dan Wylie, Rhodes University

About 15 years ago I was in a Minneapolis conference centre, about to deliver a paper on elephants in Southern African fiction, when I encountered a curious local in an elevator. When I told her that one of my subjects was Wilbur Smith’s thriller, Elephant Song, she enthused,

Oh, I just loved that book; I contribute every year now to the Hohenwald Elephant Sanctuary.

I didn’t tell her that my paper critiqued the novel for being exploitative, and grossly sensationalist. Despite its title, the book is only tangentially interested in elephants – at least in comparison with Dalene Matthee’s famous Circles in a Forest, perhaps South Africa’s most eco-sensitive novel ever.

There’s no telling what people will get out of their reading. Even in our era of super-saturating graphics and television, photography and film, literature still has a considerable effect on public perceptions of environmental issues. Until very recently, of course, reading was the primary mode of information transfer. Many attitudes towards, say, elephants were established through literature, and persist in other media today.

This is the purview of my new book, Death and Compassion: The elephant in Southern African Literature. The book takes the region south of the Zambezi as its stamping-ground. It explores how various genres of literature reflect attitudes towards elephants. It takes literature in a broad sense, probing beyond the standard fiction and poetry into non-fiction forms such as hunting accounts and game-ranger memoirs.

Each chapter asks questions crucial to our understanding of our place in the natural world. It does so conscious that this understanding is the great problem of our times, superseding and enveloping all more localised and political squabbles. What is the relationship between science and compassion? Why do men hunt? How do we educate the young about animals, the environment and us? What sense of “community” might include wild and even dangerous animals?

Conflicting emotions

Elephants raise the conflicting emotions involved in humanity’s ongoing struggle to balance exploitation and well-being, damage and compassion to a particularly intense pitch.

Can we look to indigenous cultures for guidance, as conveyed by rock art, folktales and proverbs? The rock art is relatively opaque, while oral productions are now so refracted through translation into modern literary media that it’s hard to be sure what the originals’ attitudes towards elephants might have been. Reverence, awe, and taboo are evident enough, but it seems that animal compassion is an invention of modernity.

Compassion, at least as it emerges in this literature, seems to develop in response to destruction. It strengthens belatedly but proportionately to the catastrophic decimation of wildlife under invading white firepower, and the consequent sense of loss. I found the chapters on the 18th Century travel accounts (from Pieter Kolbe through François Le Vaillant to John Barrow), and the later nineteenth-century hunting accounts (from Roualeyn George Gordon-Cumming to Frederick Courteney Selous) the hardest to write.

The unremitting slaughter related by these adventurers is stomach-turning to say the least. Not that the hunters were oblivious to an ethical issue: without exception they engage at some level with already-nascent arguments for compassion.

Without exception they find literary methods to evade or suppress any emotions which impede the drive to kill. The genre is distinguished by its evasive manoeuvres designed to avoid thinking about it at all.

The adult fictions, from H. Rider Haggard to Wilbur Smith, are little better, being largely gratuitously gory adventure-tales which come to centre repetitively on a duel-like situation: single hunter versus great old tusker. It seldom ends well for the elephant.

Still, a shift becomes discernible in mid twentieth-century novels. “Conservation” is gaining traction, so the novel, just as it had migrated out of the hunting account, now drifts into some commonalities with the modern game-ranger memoir. The ranger becomes the hero, saving the tusker from poachers.

Of course, shadowing all this is the ivory trade. It had existed for centuries, drove most of the early slaughter and drives the renewed slaughter today. In some estimates, an African elephant is being killed every 15 minutes.

Ironically, because of the colonial-era establishment of game reserves like Kruger, southern Africa’s elephants so flourished that that other side of slaughter – the organised “cull” – for a time became the management tool of choice. The ethics of culling preoccupy both late novels and memoirs by rangers, scientists and managers (such as Caitlin McConnell and Lawrence Anthony).

Perception of elephants

In most recent works, the relatively new perception of elephants not just as mobile repositories of ivory but as emotionally sensitive, uniquely communicative and socially complex – almost human, even a model for humans – achieves unprecedented prominence.

This is especially so in fiction for children, in which compassion and empathy seem more acceptable, as if they are merely childish motivations for action in the world. A disastrous stance.

Poachers and ivory traders are unlikely to be persuaded by literature. Nevertheless, understanding stories – those of the murderous as well as of the compassionate – is vital to generating the critical mass necessary to save natural environments and their multiple denizens, from elephants to herons, from octopi to ants – and ourselves – from the myopia of Mammon.

Compassion alone, unanchored by economic and legislative power, is unlikely to reverse the tide of environmental destruction, but without cross-species compassion, we are surely lost.

Death & Compassion: The elephant in Southern African Literature is published by Wits University PressThe Conversation

Dan Wylie, Professor of English, Rhodes University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.