The Reason for Drinking in Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge



In 1830 ‘The Beerhouse Act’ came into force. For the price of two guineas paid to the Excise anyone could sell beer. This was not simply a freeing-up of trade for the sake of laissez-faire economic philosophy, it was in part a measure to control the consumption of alcohol through encouraging people to switch from spirits to weaker alcoholic beverages. If beer were sold separately, people wouldn’t get so drunk, or so the thinking went. It would also, according to the free-traders, ‘advance morality’ and ‘national pros-perity’ 2 and would even help promote democracy.3 Another factor behind the Beerhouse Act may have been an attempt to win popularity for a faltering government 4 It was also seen as a gesture towards the ending of hierarchical privilege — the tax on beer then seen as an indirect tax on the poor, as Thomas Paine had once complained.5 Before the Act came into force the licensing system gave magistrates sole control over the renewal of licences each year, a power that was seen as an outdated preserve of the upper classes which some thought should be overturned.6


Public House Advance Morality Temperance Movement Economic Philosophy Grown Wheat 
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  1. 3.
    Henry Carter, The English Temperance Movement (London: Epworth, 1933), p. 25.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Andrew Barr, Drink: An Informal Social History (London: Bantam Press, 1995), pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  3. 31.
    Robin Gilmour, The Victorian Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature 1830–1890 (London: Longman, 1993), p. 14.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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