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Alcohol and Culture In the Early 1900s

Alcohol and Culture In the Early 1900s

Paris Scene, circa 1904, Courtesy of the Library of Congress 

Paris Scene, circa 1904, Courtesy of the Library of Congress 

Guest blogger Karla Chavez Hernandez 

In The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, author James Weldon Johnson provides an interesting prospective on French and British drinking culture in the early 1900s to the 1920s. The protagonist in the novel writes, “I have walked along the terrace cafés of Paris and seen hundreds of men and women sipping their wine and beer, without observing a sign of drunkenness. As they drank, they chatted and laughed and watched the passing crowds; the drinking seemed to be a secondary thing.” He goes on to say, “This I have witnessed, not only in the cafés “ of the upper classes but also in “out-of-the-way places patronized by the working classes.” He contrast this with observations in London pubs where men and women drank “seemingly only for the pleasure of swallowing as much as they could hold. I have seen there women from eighteen to eighty, some in tatters, and some clutching babes in their arms, drinking the heavy English ales and whiskies served to them by women. In the whole scene, not one ray of brightness, not one flash of gaiety, only maudlin joviality or grim despair.” The contrast in the drinking culture of the two societies is stunning.  

Karla Chavez Hernandez was a Babson College undergrad in Professor Opie’s course Food and the African American Canon

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