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Manhood Lost

, 256 pages

7 halftones

December 2010



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Manhood Lost

Fallen Drunkards and Redeeming Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States

In fiction, drama, poems, and pamphlets, nineteenth-century reformers told the familiar tale of the decent young man who fell victim to demon rum: Robbed of his manhood by his first drink, he slid inevitably into an abyss of despair and depravity. In its discounting of the importance of free will, argues Elaine Frantz Parsons, this story led to increased emphasis on environmental influences as root causes of drunkenness, poverty, and moral corruption—thus inadvertently opening the door to state intervention in the form of Prohibition.

Parsons also identifies the emergence of a complementary narrative of "female invasion"—womanhood as a moral force powerful enough to sway choice. As did many social reformers, women temperance advocates capitalized on notions of feminine virtue and domestic responsibilities to create a public role for themselves. Entering a distinctively male space—the saloon—to rescue fathers, brothers, and sons, women at the same time began to enter another male bastion—politics—again justifying their transgression in terms of rescuing the nation's manhood.

Elaine Frantz Parsons teaches American history at Duquesne University.

"A lively and sophisticated intellectual history... Manhood Lost furnishes new evidence for the centrality of the drink debate to nineteenth-century culture."

" Manhood Lost deserves a wide readership among historians of gender, temperance, and the nineteenth-century United States."

"Parsons makes a convincing argument for a much closer connection between discourses of women's rights and temperance in the nineteenth century."

"A fresh perspective on the ways in which nineteenth-century participants in America's temperance debate understood the roles of men and women and the relationships between individuals and their environment."

"Its findings will be embraced enthusiastically by scholars affiliated with the emergent field of alcohol and addiction studies."

"A provocative, fascinating, and elegant book."

"Parsons offers a fresh perspective on one of the more turgid chapters in American history: the temperance movement of the 19th century. She identifies a pervasive genre—the so-called 'drunkard narrative'—and uses it to uncover strains in how contemporaries thought about free will, individual responsibility and sexual inversion."

"An intriguing, well written, and thought-provoking study that deserves a wide audience among American cultural historians."

"Elaine Frantz Parsons brings enormous freshness to a topic—American temperance and anti-temperance debates—about which we thought we knew a great deal. Her research encompasses the ways in which class, race, gender, religion, reform, legal discourse, and scientific knowledge shaped understandings of alcohol, efforts to control or eliminate it, and its symbolic uses. Thanks to her skill in simultaneously reading texts deeply and in locating them within social structures, she found far more complexity, ambiguity, and diversity in anti-alcohol arguments than previous scholars perceived. Her book gives far richer understanding of what was at stake in post-Civil War debates over alcohol, linking the concerns of both proponents and opponents of temperance to larger social and cultural forces in late nineteenth-century America."

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