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Confessions of an English Opium Eater (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Thomas De Quincey
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Mar 2003 Penguin Classics

A masterpiece of autobiography, and perhaps the first literary memoir of an addict, the Penguin Classics edition of Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is edited with an introduction by Barry Milligan.

Confessions is a remarkable account of the pleasures and pains of worshipping at the 'Church of Opium'. Thomas De Quincey consumed daily large quantities of laudanum (at the time a legal painkiller), and this autobiography of addiction hauntingly describes his surreal visions and hallucinatory nocturnal wanderings through London, along with the nightmares, despair and paranoia to which he became prey. The result is a work in which the effects of drugs and the nature of dreams, memory and imagination are seamlessly interwoven, describing in intimate detail the mind-altering pleasures and pains unique to opium. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater forged a link between artistic self-expression and addiction, paving the way for later generations of literary addicts from Baudelaire to James Frey, and anticipating psychoanalysis with its insights into the subconscious.

This edition is based on the original serial version of 1821, and reproduces two 'sequels', 'Suspiria de Profundis' (1845) and 'The English Mail-Coach' (1849). It also includes a critical introduction discussing the romantic figure of the addict and the tradition of confessional literature, and an appendix on opium in the nineteenth century.

Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) studied at Oxford, failing to take his degree but discovering opium. He later met Coleridge, Southey and the Wordsworths. From 1828 until his death he lived in Edinburgh and made his living from journalism.

If you enjoyed Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, you might like William S. Burroughs' Junky, available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'De Quincey was one of the first great autobiographers'

Jonathan Bate


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition edition (27 Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140439013
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140439014
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 12.9 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 116,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) studied at Oxford, failing to take his degree but discovering opium. He later met Coleridge, Southey and the Wordsworths. From 1828 until his death he lived in Edinburgh and made his living from journalism. Barry Milligan is Professor of English at Wright State University and author of Pleasures and Pains (Virginia UP, 1995).

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars About the eater more than opium 16 Dec 2013
By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
First, I would recommend the Oxford over the Penguin edition. They both contain the same material: the 1821 edition of the Confessions and the later Suspiria de Profundis and English Mail-Coach but, apart from its airier format, the Oxford edition has a better introduction, providing literary and biographical insights into De Quincey's work instead of the somewhat tendentious material on opium's nineteenth-century social characteristics proposed by Barry Milligan in the Penguin version.

As to the Confessions, they are more interesting as autobiographical material than for what they say about opium addiction, and you risk being disappointed if you are looking for something racy. The novella, which first came out in magazine format, caused less controversy than might be imagined, since the sale and consumption of opium were legal in Britain, without limitations, and De Quincey was far from the only addict in the literary world. The Confessions are a poetical work anyway, and the author's descriptions of the pains and pleasures of opium are less literal than about exploring the power of dreams and raw imagination. A second strand is autobiographical, going into De Quincey's struggles and flight from London as a penniless student and other later experiences. The Suspiria, meanwhile, are somewhat redundant, though they dwell on De Quincey's unhappiness at the loss of his sister when still a child. And the Mail-Coach is a highly entertaining flight of fancy that returns to the more phantasmagorical opium dreams of the Confessions. In the midst of it all, De Quincey, who was foremost an essayist and commentator and who lived from the pen, rambles from one subject to another from classical Greek theatre to political economy.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a shambles 30 Mar 2013
By Mrs. K. A. Wheatley TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
The introduction to this book explains why it is such an enduring classic, and what makes it such a fascinating read.

I am glad I read the introduction. It was the most coherent, interesting thing about the book.

I can see why, in its day, this was such a shocking and popular work. My understanding is that prior to this nobody had really discussed the pros and cons of opium addiction, nor indeed written anything so confessional. We may have De Quincey to thank for the slew of celebrity biographies that crowd the shelves in modern bookshops.

Or not.

This book really is for experts and enthusiasts in the field of literature and the history of how literature has been shaped, and changed over the centuries. It is not a must read for those with a casual interest in the classics.

Originally this was published as two separate pieces, and published and written in a hurry because De Quincey needed the money. You can see that from the disjointed, rushed way in which it was written. It is sketchy at best. It meanders all over the place. It doesn't really get around to talking about opium at all until the second section of the book. Even then De Quincey swings backwards and forwards in his writing, quite often saying one thing and then reneging on it, repeating himself, leaving trains of narrative open ended and dangling.

The copy I have gives you the original work of 1822 and then revisions from the 1856 amended version afterwards, which makes it even more frustrating to read.

Having known a few addicts in my time, it is clear to see that much of it was written in the grip of an addiction, and certainly the physical and mental effects of opium addiction can be traced in the meandering half hearted narrative he presents, and his love/hate relationship with the drug.

It is, frankly, a bit of a mess, and quite a disappointment because of it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight 14 May 2013
By matt
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As a scholar researching medico-legal history of opiate addiction and orientation I cannot recommend this book enough; which to a layman may appear obtuse or without purpose.
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