Drink, modernity and modernism : representations of drinking and intoxication in James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Jean Rhys
This thesis is a study of the representation of drinking in modernist literature. It takes as its core texts novels by James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Jean Rhys. It argues that drinking came to acquire a specific set of social, cultural and political meanings in western modernity, and that an understanding of this process is crucial to understanding the semantic complexity which drink and drinking come to acquire in modernist literature. This study combines a close reading of literary texts with a historical overview of changing social attitudes to alcohol legislative reforms, popular representations and aesthetic theory. I not only argue that drink becomes a richly polysemic figure in literary modernism, but also that representations of drink and drinking can be theorised using a number of thematically specific critical techniques. Having outlined the development of the 'drink problem' in the nineteenth century. and, the manifold ideological ramifications of temperance thought, I develop the concept of 'synthetic transcendence' by way of identifying a specifically modernist response to the ideological problematization of both drinking and intoxication. The notion of 'synthetic transcendence' - which is also a radical philosophical response to the experience of secularisation - produces an 'aesthetics of intoxication' through which I read the key texts of this study. The specific narrative function of drink is considered in each of the close readings. At the same time, close analysis of the literature is used to embark upon a broader study of the cultural status of drink in the societies depicted. This thesis addresses a theoretical and analytical gap in prior criticism in that it addresses the broad social and ideological contexts out of which modernist representations of drinking emerged, establishes the intrinsic role of intoxication in a number of modernist texts, and provides critical tools with which these representations can be theorised.