In Our Mutual Friend, the drunk Mr Dolls is regarded as a child by the young girl who cares for him, as if she were his parent. As for him, “it was always on the conscience of the paralytic scarecrow that he had betrayed his sharp parent for threepennyworths of rum, which were all gone, and that her sharpness would infallibly detect his having done it, sooner or later”.
There is a mixture of guilt and incapacity that, in our generation, we attach to a condition called alcoholism. Yet many people think of alcoholism as an illness. If so, it is not an illness like measles, which admits no admixture of guilt, resolution and disappointed reform.
Alcoholism falls within the category of addiction and, within the past generation, addiction seems to be blamed for an increasingly wide range of bad behaviour. Drugs, we suppose, are addictive. Cigarettes are a kind of drug. Patterns of eating seem to be addictive, not just eating chocolate, but comfort eating, over-eating and compulsive dieting.