Going up in smoke

A. N. Wilson, the British writer, has a wistful essay on the quiet acquiescence of the British people to the ban on smoking in public places and the possibility that it could entail the death of literature in England. He begins his essay with a question,

What do the following have in common: Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, T S Eliot, W B Yeats, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Evelyn Waugh, Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis?

The answer is, of course, that if they were to come back to life in Gordon Brown’s Britain and wanted to go out to their club, or a restaurant or café, they would not be allowed to indulge in a habit which sustained them during the most creative phases of their lives.

He states that after “racking my brains to find a single non-smoker among the great English poets or novelists of the 17th, 18th, 19th or 20th centuries,” he has been unable to think of a single one who was not a smoker. He proceeds to give a extensive list of these tobacco stained literary giants and concludes with a call to arms: “Heroic Beryl Bainbridge keeps on smoking for England, but will there be any more writers in the years to come, following in her heroic steps?”


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