English Literature

‘They all know what I am. I’m a woman come in here to get drunk’: Reading Femininity, Intoxication and Shame (CANCELLED)

Olivia Laing’s 2013 book, The Trip to Echo Spring, is subtitled ‘On Writers and Drinking’ and in it she sets out to discover ‘why writers drink, and what effect this stew of spirits has had upon the body of literature itself.’[i] Her six main examples, however, are all male authors; she acknowledges that ‘There were many women writers I could have chosen too, but for reasons that will become apparent their stories came too close to home.’[ii] In fact, as I will suggest, any study of women writers and their relationship to states of intoxication and addiction (alcoholic or otherwise) necessarily raises quite particular questions about female embodiment, visibility and objectification, femininity and, importantly, about the gendering of shame. If intoxication offers, as Laing speculates, ‘a way of disappearing from the world, or at least of slipping one’s appointed place within it’, it can also, she concedes, ‘[make] one all too painfully impossible to miss’, a fact that has distinctive ramifications for the woman writer and the woman drinker alike.[iii] Shame, as I am conceiving it, is what links these matters of embodiment, visibility and femininity, being something that is rooted in the body (the blush, the averted face), and experienced as a kind of painful visibility or self-consciousness (becoming an object for others); shame is also one of the primary tools in the policing of gender norms, and in the case of femininity its role, I want to suggest, is as much constitutive as regulative.

My concern in this paper will be to show the particular triangulation of gender identity, addiction/intoxication and shame, and to consider how this is manifested in and through writing. Via readings of Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight (1939), Anna Kavan’s Julia and the Bazooka (1970), and A.L. Kennedy’s Paradise (2004) I will connect the depiction of states of intoxication with socio-political questions of femininity, embodiment, sexuality, pleasure, spectacle and the moral policing of gender – and thus with questions intimately tied to matters of the shameful and shameless.


Dr. Kaye Mitchell is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, and Co-Director of the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester. She is the author of two monographs (on literary intention, and on A.L. Kennedy, respectively), and has edited two essay collections (on Sarah Waters, and on 1960s British avant-garde writing) and one special issue (on women’s experimental writing). Her work in progress includes a monograph on shame, gender and writing, and a special issue of the European Journal of English Studies. Kaye is the Co-Editor of the OUP journal, Contemporary Women’s Writing.


[i] Olivia Laing, The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2013), p7

[ii] Laing, p9

[iii] Laing, p19

Curved bookshelf
Mar 16 2018 -

‘They all know what I am. I’m a woman come in here to get drunk’: Reading Femininity, Intoxication and Shame (CANCELLED)

*CANCELLED* A free seminar by guest speaker, Dr Kaye Mitchell (University of Manchester)

Project room (1.06)
50 George Square