Friday, 29 June 2007

Absinthe (Absinth) - The Green Fairy

Absinth(e) (in the UK is spelt with an e) has one of the most mythical histories of any alcoholic drink. It was actually banned on a number of occasions due to the results of peoples reactions to it. The hallucinogenic properties of it are fabled and well documented as well as it being used by many artists and writers for inspiration.

Here I intend to review a number of books available on it's history and usage.

Absinthe: History in a Bottle by Barnaby Conrad

Maybe not the most definitive book on the history of absinthe but accessible, enjoyable and plenty of graphic images to delight the reader. The images range from wild portraits by Van Gogh, to anti-Absinthe propaganda published by the French Government. This book is well researched and provides a good backdrop on the 'absinthe-culture'. The research is quite extensive and the images plentiful, there are also mini-biographies and literary quotes from and about Verlaine, Rimbaud, Wilde and Baudelaire showing how Absinthe was said to influence the creative and artistic. This book is very readable and insightful and probably the current most popular tome on absinthe.

Absinthe: Sip of Seduction - A Contemporary Guide by Betina Wittels & Robert Hermesch

Edited by T.A. Breaux with a foreword by Marie-Claude Delahaye. This comprehensive guide has been lovingly compiled by two avid collectors of all things Absinthe. Included is a cultural and scientific history, a gallery of famous drinkers both past and present and a detailed analysis of what Absinthe is and its effects. In addition, there are extensive guides to where to find Absinthe around the world - where it's legal and where it's not - as well as techniques for drinking it and making absinthe cocktails. Illustrated throughout.

Absinthe - The Cocaine of the Nineteenth Century: A History of the Hallucinogenic Drug and Its Effect on Artists and Writers in Europe and the United States - by Doris Lanier

This work provides a history of "the green fairy", a study of its use and abuse, an exploration of the tremendous social problems (not unlike the cocaine problems of this century) it caused, and an examination of the extent to which the lives of talented young writers and artists of the period became caught up in the absinthe craze.

Absinthe produced a sense of euphoria and a heightening of the senses, similar to the effect of cocaine and opium, but was addictive and caused a rapid loss of mental and physical faculties. Despite that, Picasso, Manet, Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Degas and Wilde were among those devoted to its consumption and produced writings and art influenced by the drink.

There are still many debates as to whether Absinthe was a Hallucinogen and this book does tend to take it as fact that the 19th century process of making it ensured that it actually was an hallucigen. This book is more aimed at the reader of social history than the more casual reader

The Dedalus Book of Absinthe by Phil Baker

This well-researched history of Absinthe is an absolute joy to read. It chronicles the devotion, effect, and, in some cases, destruction experienced through this drink by not only the masses but influential writers and artists such as Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, Baudelaire, Ernest Dowson, Verlaine & Rimbaud, Toulouse Lautrec, Van Gogh, et al. Also contains handy reviews of currently obtainable brands of the drink. Highly recommended!

Hideous Absinthe: A History of the "Devil in a Bottle" by Jad Adams

Hideous Absinthe boldly combines the art, literature, science, and social history of the nineteenth century to produce the story of a drink that came to symbolize both the high points of art and the depths of degeneration.
Jad Adams looks at the myths of absinthe and examines its influence on the artistic movements of the nineteenth century. He considers the work of Degas, Manet, and Picasso, who painted what are now considered masterpieces depicting absinthe drinkers. He examines the mystery of van Gogh’s absinthe addiction and asks whether absinthe truly did contribute to the poetic vision of Verlaine, Rimbaud, and other writers.
Adams looks back at absinthe’s contribution to the hedonistic culture of the French Second Empire and to Toulouse-Lautrec’s Paris of the 1890s and details the outraged English reaction to absinthe in the context of resistance to French art. Absinthe was seen as a foreign poison undermining the national resolve just as the decadence of Oscar Wilde and his circle was seen to undermine national culture.
The story continues through thrill-seeking American and English absinthe drinkers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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