At one time all the best American novelists—F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner – drank until they fell down. Faulkner lived in Oxford, Mississippi, where he had mules. He would go into his barn and drink for four or five days, ending unconscious on the floor. Someone asked him why he did it and he said “because it feels good.”
They don’t drink like that these days and they also don’t write novels like The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, and As I Lay Dying. I can’t recall what novels they do write.
Americans weren’t the only drunks. James Joyce fell down drunk in a gutter in Paris and his brother Stanislaus picked him up and carried him home. “What were you doing in the gutter?” Stanislaus asked. “Thinking about Hamlet,” Joyce said. “Good God, what did you think of him?” “I was thinking he was a pest.”
Joyce and young Hemingway were pals. When Joyce would get into an argument, he would shout, “Deal with him, Hemingway.”
Tolstoy as a young man spent most of his time drinking. (He was a student and then a soldier.) Walking down a street with a friend they were approached by a beggar. Tolstoy’s friend gave him some money. “He’ll only spend it on drink,” Tolstoy said. “Well, what are we going to spend it on?” his friend said.
The best male crime writers ever since Edgar Alan Poe drank. Poe was thrown out of West Point, the military academy, for drunkenness. Later drinking on election day in America was outlawed because one election day Poe had staggered about voting early and often.
Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the great 20th Century American masters, were incredible drunks. Chandler only wrote six Philip Marlowe books because he couldn’t write when he was drinking. He led a terrible life. He couldn’t go out socially because he got terribly drunk. This kept him away from some of the great Hollywood parties when he was writing for the movies. I think Dashiell Hammett couldn’t write unless he was drunk and then gave up drinking and no longer wrote.
I don’t drink but I used to. I woke up one morning married. I guess she had been drunk too because she said, “Who are you?” “I don’t know,” I said. “But it’s funny, if you’d asked me that ten seconds ago, I would have known.”
I gave up drinking when beer went up to 8shillings a pint. I only wrote two novels when I was drinking but I wrote at least one and sometimes two or three humorous pieces each week which were published. Maybe the editors were drunk.
I’ve got a crime novel, Murder In a Cold Climate out now. It opens with one of the main characters waking up hungover in a strange room in a strange town with a strange man who had spent the night being very familiar. Nobody gets falling down drunk in it; they don’t even sing which is something I remember doing; they don’t dance on tables; I recall dancing on the late Punch’s famous dining table; it was OK because I was the editor. I came after the brilliant Alan Coren – not noticeably a drinking man.
Is this the sort of rambling that Blog readers want, at least sober blog readers?
Cheers and bottoms up, as Oscar Wilde used to say.