Rum Maniacs: Alcoholic Insanity In The Early American Republic

Hardcover | March 14, 2014

byMatthew Warner Osborn

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Edgar Allan Poe vividly recalls standing in a prison cell, fearing for his life, as he watched men mutilate and dismember the body of his mother. That memory, however graphic and horrifying, was not real. It was a hallucination, one of many suffered by the writer, caused by his addiction to alcohol.

In Rum Maniacs, Matthew Warner Osborn reveals how and why pathological drinking became a subject of medical interest, social controversy, and lurid fascination in the early American republic. At the heart of that story is the disease that Poe suffered: delirium tremens. First described in 1813, delirium tremens and its characteristic hallucinations inspired sweeping changes in how the medical profession saw and treated the problems of alcohol abuse. Based on new theories of pathological anatomy, human physiology, and mental illness, the new diagnosis founded the medical conviction and popular belief that habitual drinking could become a psychological and physiological disease. By midcentury, delirium tremens had inspired a wide range of popular theater, poetry, fiction, and illustration. This romantic fascination endured into the twentieth century, most notably in the classic Disney cartoon Dumbo, in which a pink pachyderm marching band haunts a drunken young elephant. Rum Maniacs reveals just how delirium tremens shaped the modern experience of alcohol addiction as a psychic struggle with inner demons.

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From the Publisher

Edgar Allan Poe vividly recalls standing in a prison cell, fearing for his life, as he watched men mutilate and dismember the body of his mother. That memory, however graphic and horrifying, was not real. It was a hallucination, one of many suffered by the writer, caused by his addiction to alcohol. In Rum Maniacs, Matthew Warner Osb...

Matthew Warner Osborn is assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:280 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:March 14, 2014Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022609989X

ISBN - 13:9780226099897

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1 Ardent Spirits and Republican Medicine

2 Discovering Delirium Tremens

3 Hard Drinking and Want

4 The Benevolent Empire of Medicine

5 The Pathology of Intemperance

6 The Drunkard’s Demons


Epilogue: Alcoholics and Pink Elephants


NotesIndex

Editorial Reviews

“Osborn offers a much needed update to the historiography of early-American temperance, revealing the central role played by the medical profession in furthering the movement. . . . Osborn’s analysis greatly enhances the historical literature on temperance by revealing the movement’s distinctly medical dimension, a feature that has hitherto remained obscured in the background of the political, social, and economic interpretations that dominate the historiography of alcohol and drugs in this period. But, Rum Maniacs is more than just a significant addition to the historiography of American temperance. As a social history of medicine, it also explains how the construction of a new disease underpinned the response of an emergent American middle class to the demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural realities of the market revolution.”