The novelist and poet Michèle Roberts presents a history of absinthe, and its influence on art and writing.
Toulouse-Lautrec, Verlaine, Van Gogh, Baudelaire, Gauguin , Oscar Wilde and Hemingway - all are united by their love of absinthe. In the late C19th it became so popular that 5pm, when absinthe was served, became known as 'the Green Hour'.
Artists celebrated this bitter-sweet, aperitif. The way it changes from clear green to milky white with the addition of water is an alcoholic metaphor for inspiration and artistic transformation. But absinthe is very strong, and was thought to be hallucinogenic.
Artists' subjects and modes of expression changed radically in the later C19th. Artists and writers seemed to pursue lives of reckless extremity. Michèle investigates how all this became associated with absinthe. A symbol of the demi-monde, 'the green fairy' was demonised and banned in much of Europe (including in France), and America.
Michèle Roberts tells absinthe's story, from its origins, how troops returning from the tropics, where it was used as an anti-malarial, brought the taste for it home; how it permeated French society - even the urban poor could afford absinthe.
She explores absinthe's adoption by artists. At first an aid to inspiration, did it lead to fondness, in the Shakespearian sense of foolishness? Did absinthe make the art grow fonder? In Paris and London she learns the rituals of its consumption and the myths surrounding the spirit; its rise, decline and fall - and recent resurgence - there are 200 brands available these days. And, under its influence she writes a poem. The editor of Poetry Review will judge if absinthe inspires or wrecks her work.
Producer: Julian May.