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ELT 48 : 1 2005 rial finally do not constitute adequate matter for another book on Woolf in spite of the pleasure of revisiting familiar faces and facts from a slightly different angle. Perhaps this is due to the diffuse range of Curtis's portraits or perhaps to the too-facile comparisons of Woolf s novelistic characters with their real-life counterparts, fascinating though those counterparts are. ELEANOR MCNEES University of Denver The Devil Made Liquid Jad Adams. Hideous Absinthe: A History of the Devil in a Bottle. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. χ + 294 pp. $24.95 FOR DECADES, absinthe was "transformed from the green fairy, muse of arts, 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." Asylums were filled, whole families decimated, users destroyed by "spontaneous human combustion." In 1905, a Swiss peasant murdered his wife and two children, which led to the banning of absinthe , and Belgium banned it soon after. Other countries had similar bannings because of the 70% or 75% alcoholic content. The new myth with respect to artists and poets in the second half of the nineteenth century was indulgence in absinthe by such figures as Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Verlaine. Manet's first major painting was The Absinthe Drinker (1859). At thirty-seven, he was the oldest of the new group, which included Degas, Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro. As Jad Adams remarks, Huysmans was "often said to be the supreme expression of the decadent spirit...." It is with the term "decadence" that confusion surfaces early on in this comprehensive study of absinthe. In The Breviary of the Decadence: J. -K. Huysmans's A Rebours and English Literature (2001), G. A. Cevasco has taken care to distinguish "Decadence" from "decadence." Throughout Adams's book, "decadent" and "decadence" are exhaustively employed but defined only once—that is, when Adams cites Arthur Symons's "The Decadent Movement in Literature" (1893). However, Symons says the latest literary movement in Europe is "called by many names, none of them quite exact or comprehensive—Decadence, Symbolism, Impressionism . ..." With "Decadence" capitalized, Symons refers to a brilliant 124 book Reviews new literary accomplishment, whereas "decadence" refers to a decline in morality or in art, as in "the Greek, the Latin, decadence." Referring to modern Decadence, Symons perceives an intense self-consciousness, a restless curiosity in research, an oversubtilizing refinement upon refinement, a spiritual and moral perversity. If what we call the classic is indeed the supreme art—those qualities of perfect simplicity, perfect sanity, perfect proportion, the supreme qualities—then this representative of to-day, interesting, beautiful, novel as it is, is really a new and beautiful and interesting disease. Healthy we cannot call it, and healthy it does not wish to be considered. According to Adams, Verlaine may have been inspired to use the term décadent (sic) for his poem "Je suis l'Empire à la fin de la décadence." The term in this regard is reasonably accurate, drawn as it is from Verlaine and transported to The Oxford Companion to French Literature (1959), p. 255: "... thoughts refined to an extreme of civilisation, a high literary culture, a soul capable of intense voluptuousness ... a mixture of the carnal spirit and the sad flesh and all the violent splendours of the end of empire." Of course, "Decadence" should be capitalized despite its French source; otherwise, its meaning to the literature of the age is lost. This confusion in terminology aside, Hideous Absinthe's strength is in surveying the "best-documented examples of heavy absinthe users," especially artists in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In 1888, Van Gogh departed for Aries in southern France on the advice of Toulouse-Lautrec. Of Aries, Van Gogh wrote: "In all honesty I have to add that the Zouaves [soldiers], the brothels, the adorable little Aries girls on their way to their first communion, the priest in his surplice...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 124-126
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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