Warner, Jessica 1956-
WARNER, Jessica 1956-
PERSONAL: Born 1956, in Washington, DC; daughter of John Finney (reporter and editor for New York Times); married Reese Warner, 1991. Education: Princeton University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1978; Yale University, M.Phil., 1981, Ph.D., 1991.
ADDRESSES: Office—Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 33 Russell St., Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2S1, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, professor of history; Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, research scientist.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowships from Yale University; grants from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1997-2000, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, 2000-2003.
Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to journals, including Albion, Journal of Family History, Addiction, Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, Journal of Social History, Globe and Mail, Social Science History, Contemporary Drug Problems, and American Journal of Public Health.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book set during the American Revolution.
SIDELIGHTS: Jessica Warner is the author of Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason. She noted on her Web site that she was a Medievalist who "somehow managed to convince a bunch of epidemiologists that they—and the U.S. government—needed to know why medieval people drank so much. I was never much with Latin, the language of true Medievalists, and so I naturally found myself drawn to texts written in English. But even sixteenth-century texts were hard going, and it was only a matter of time before I looked for something easier on the eyes, which in this case happened to be seventeenth-century sermons against drunkenness. From there it was a quick leap into the eighteenth century."
With grant money, Warner was able to spend four months in and around London, researching the history of the use of gin. Warner wrote the book in a lighter style but found the facts to be dark, especially those that show that addiction, then as now, affects the same set of people, and is addressed by politicians with the same sorts of pat answers and solutions to the problem.
What Warner shows is that from 1720 to 1751, cheap gin was the urban drug of choice. The working poor turned to it to numb them from the cold and their misery, and the more well-off looked down on the gin drinkers. But they also recognized that drunkenness tended to immobilize the masses, rendering them more docile and more likely to do the bidding of the government and their employers. Jonathan Yardley noted in Washington Post Book World that Warner "has chosen to tell the story of the gin craze largely in terms of class.... This places her squarely within academic orthodoxy . . . which for some time has been fixated on class as well as race and gender, but in this instance ideological fashion appears to agree with historical truth."
Gin had been invented by the Dutch, made by redistilling malt spirits with juniper berries. At one point, more than 7,000 licensed distillers served a London of 600,000, but street vendors turned out a "barely drinkable" liquor that was so strong that it sometimes turned deadly. Individuals in Warner's cast of characters play a role in commenting on the drink. Some of the most well-known figures include Samuel Johnson, Lord Chesterfield, Sir Robert Walpole, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and William Hogarth.
Parliament levied excise taxes on the sale of gin which ballooned by more than 1,000 percent between 1700 and 1771, and this way of raising money was popular with the ruling class, who also profited from the sale of the grain needed to make it. The working class, the gin drinkers, had no say in elections, and, therefore, they had no control over these levies. But the people ignored the taxes and laws restricting the sale of gin and continued to drink it, causing terrible health consequences. There were eight laws passed that both controlled and taxed gin through excise taxes and license fees, with the Gin Act of 1736 being the most restrictive. The poor took it as a challenge to their freedoms and continued to drink, and to hunt down the paid informers who turned them in. The 1743 act raised excise taxes, but reduced licensing fees and eliminated rewards to informers. There was a fear that the return of soldiers after the 1748 peace treaty in Europe would result in additional disruption, and the most restrictive legislation of all was passed. The craze ended not by law, but when jobs became more scarce and grain more expensive. The government banned its sale for distilling, limiting its use to food products.
Gin again became fashionable some eight decades later. "Once again, though," noted Alan Riding in the New York Times Book Review, "the real problem was not what people drank, but who did the drinking. In the quiet comfort of London clubs, gin could be tippled with impunity. But when the poor drank it to excess, they were viewed as a threat to society. Charles Dickens saw through this hypocrisy. 'Gin drinking is a great vice in England,' he wrote in the early 1830s, when he was still a journalist, 'but wretchedness and dirt are greater.'" Riding noted that Warner thinks along the same lines as Dickens. "Recalling the failure of many antidrug campaigns since the 1970s, she argues that we are 'too easily seduced by the notion that the complex problems that come with complex places boil down to a simple and single source, be it gin, heroin, or crack cocaine.'"
A Kirkus Reviews contributor who called Craze "a tart, acute inquiry," wrote that Warner "gives her savvy investigation a second, deeper dimension as a parable about drugs: why some take them and others worry when they do."
"The gin shop has given way to the crack house, but the anti-drug rhetoric sounds eerily familiar," commented D. J. Morel on the Web site of the Seattle Times. "It remains far easier for government to demonize drugs than do something about the squalid environments that encourage their use in the first place."
In a London Guardian review, Frances Wilson wrote of Warner's findings: "Arguing with great skill and wit that drug abuse is a symptom and not the cause of social problems, she is persuasive and compelling to a surprising degree. Craze stirs us into action rather than allowing us to feel, as do many historical accounts or several glasses of gin, comfortably distanced from the grim reality."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guardian (London, England), March 1, 2003, Frances Wilson, review of Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of Craze, p. 1021.
Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Isabel Coates, review of Craze, p. 114.
New York Times Book Review, January 19, 2003, Alan Riding, review of Craze, p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, August 5, 2002, review of Craze, p. 62.
Washington Post Book World, October 24, 2002, Jonathan Yardley, review of Craze, p. 4.
Jessica Warner Web site,http://www.mothergin.com/ (March 8, 2003).
Seattle Times Online,http://www.seattletimes.nwsource.com/ (November 10, 2002), D. J. Morel, review of Craze.