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More on the Gin Craze

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Gin Lane & Soju-Ro

A long time ago, I started a planned series of posts that didn’t go very far, drawing some parallels between the England of the Gin Craze era (the early 1700s) and Korea in the first decade of the 21st century. I’m still not feeling like continuing it, but I am reading up on the Gin Craze (right now, working my way through Patrick Dillon’s wonderful Gin: The Much-Lamented Death of Madam Geneva–The Eighteenth Century Gin Craze) as I continue working on a short story set during that period, and a number of things have struck me as fascinating.

So fascinating, indeed, that for me it’s a struggle to resist the urge to find a way to make my own narrative stretch over a couple of decades or more, just so I can work in all the neat details, an urge I’ve managed to resist so far but only barely.


What sorts of things am I talking about? Well, let’s see:

Reformers hated women who drank because they threatened social order. But maybe older memories and fears lingered in the background. Crouched over her market barrow, the old basket-woman with a bottle in her had evoked the memory of other old women who had dispensed magic potions. She, too, transgressed social norms; she held the power of transformation and her end was death by fire. In the same year it passed the Gin Act, Parliament finally outlawed the burning of witches. But it was easier to eras witches from the statute book than to pluck them from the popular imagination. Grace Pitt, charred to ash on her own hearth-stone, had met the fate of all her kind. Spontaneous combustion became the threatened end for women who turned to spirits. They carried their own stake and flames within them.

And that paragraph–which ends off Chapter Thirteen, on the subject of women as emblematic of gin in the Londoner’s mind, as well as in the minds of prohibitionist “reformers” at the time–is an example of Dillon’s wonderful ability to tie together factual history and dogpiles of research together with thoughtful cultural insight and imagination. Gin is a great book, well worth the read… and this time, as I read it, the parallels with other places and times–most prominently, the inefficacy of the current “War on Drugs” in America–also are impossible to miss though Dillon doesn’t push that line much at all (mentioning it only at the end, in the context of this being a recurrent pattern where conservatives react to social change by banning whatever intoxicants are popular with the people who seem to represent that change in their minds: the gin-swilling migrants from the countryside into London in the early 1700s, or the blacks and Mexicans and “their marijuana,” or the long-haired youth who took up not just marijuana but also LSD and other intoxicants a few decades later, when Nixon starts the “war on drugs” in I think it was 1970).

Bonus: it’s really, really fun to marvel at the strange, antique language of a world where Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders are just slipping from current culture into being old news.No idea how I’ll manage to work some of that into my story, though it’s absolutely necessary!

Series Navigation<< Gin Lane & Soju-ro: Part 1 — The Preamble
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