Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Birnam’s apartment

Birnam’s apartment. Home of Don Birnam, at 311 East Fifty-fifth Street in Manhattan, where the novel begins and where Don spends a long weekend on a drinking binge. He lives with his brother, who pays the rent, but, tellingly, it is Don who sleeps in the one bedroom, while his brother sleeps on the living-room couch. The apartment is in midtown Manhattan but has a small garden, an indication of the middle-class comfort Don enjoys despite his unemployment. The apartment is both his refuge and his prison. It is a prison of boredom and frustration when he is sober and faces the empty hours to be filled; it is a refuge when, after it is too late to drink in bars, he returns home with a bottle, locks the door, and allows the phone to ring unanswered.


Bars. Once free of his brother’s company, Don’s first destination is his neighborhood bar, Sam’s, dark and cheap and quiet; here he is known and enjoys a kind of friendship with Sam the bartender and the barmaid Gloria. He has less pleasant experiences in other bars, notably Jack’s, a former speakeasy in Greenwich Village, where he attempts to steal a woman’s purse as a drunken prank and is caught and humiliated. When drinking in public, he imagines himself aloof, superior, apart from the crowd. He is apt to fictionalize his life, as he does to Gloria, inventing an imaginary unhappy marriage. Although he drinks heavily in bars, he does his most serious and most dangerous drinking when he is alone at home.


*Manhattan. Borough of New York City in which Don lives. In part 3 of the novel, Don Birnam, moneyless, hung over, and in desperate need of a drink, carries his typewriter sixty-five city blocks up Manhattan, to an unfamiliar neighborhood on 120th Street,...

(The entire section is 748 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Alcoholics Anonymous. 1st ed. New York: Works, 1939. This landmark text examines alcoholism from the layperson’s perspective; Jackson cited it later as a primary source for the view of alcoholic progression in The Lost Weekend. Basically a spiritual guide for the recovering alcoholic, many first-person accounts in the story section parallel Don Birnam’s sordid adventures and downward spiral.

Crowley, John W. The White Logic: Alcoholism and Gender in American Modernist Fiction. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. Excellent discussion of drinking in Amer-ican fiction, with historical background and literary antecedents to the modern age. A heavily annotated chapter on The Lost Weekend includes biographical information on Jackson and puts the novel in perspective as a postscript to the novels of the 1920’s and 1930’s featuring the “heroic drunk.”

Gilmore, Thomas B. Equivocal Spirits: Alcoholism and Drinking in Twentieth Century Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Carries the discussion of alcoholism in literature to the postmodern 1960’s and 1970’s. The Lost Weekend is largely ignored, but Gilmore discusses Jackson and Don Birnam as a backdrop to praise of Malcolm Lowry’s “more compelling and complex” alcoholic hero in Under the Volcano.

Spectorsky, A. C. Review of The Lost Weekend, by Charles Reginald Jackson. Book Week, January 30, 1944, 4. In this contemporary analysis, Spectorsky discusses the unique and “spectacular” writing techniques employed by Jackson. Though he admits the book is shocking, it is never so for shock value alone; rather Jackson aims at “accuracy and the complete truth.”

Wilson, Edmund. Review of The Lost Weekend. The New Yorker 19 (February 5, 1944): 78. Another contemporary review that generally praises the novel, but Wilson ultimately finds the story a disappointment because of its lack of dramatic climax.