A "reverence for strong drink": the lost generation and the elevation of alcohol in American culture. Academic Article uri icon


  • Over one-half of famous American authors with reputations for drunkenness were born between 1888 and 1900. Although college students of their generation seem to have been "drier" than earlier or later cohorts, many of the writers were already drinking heavily in college. Several reasons are suggested. After World War I, many fledgling authors spent time in Paris, becoming known as the "lost generation" and adding French and other drinking styles to their existing drinking patterns. Bohemian Americans during Prohibition found a resonance with the residual political symbolism of drinking in France as a statement of autonomy against the state. The community of expatriate writers provided a supportive environment for heavy drinking. In turn, the lost generation became a transmitter of new values concerning drinking to American culture in general. Their writings inadvertently promoted mass middle-class tourism to Paris in the late 1920s. Their lives and works strengthened the association between writing and drinking as a model for later literary generations. Both in written form and as films, their works conveyed an attractive image of drinking and often of drunkenness to the wider public. The decisive shift in drinking patterns among middle-class youth in the late 1920s ushered in a lasting change in the cultural position of drinking, as it became a cosmopolitan, progressive and eventually respectable behavior. At a minimum, the writers of the lost generation served as harbingers, carriers and catalysts of this change.

publication date

  • November 1984