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Confessions of an English Opium Eater (Penguin Classics)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 December 2013
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. The works are more valuable, indeed, for their commentary on Victorian life and for their poetical force than for anything they may say about drugs.

Lastly, a tangential obervation: Britain waged the first opium war, a war to force the Chinese to keep buying opium from its merchants, in between the publication of the Confessions and Suspiria. The war was for obvious reasons controversial in Britain. De Quincey wrote two pieces, published in 1840 and 1841 in Blackwood's Magazine, advocating military intervention against the Chinese. These two articles were violently imperialistic and De Quincey, as a short passage in the Confessions already hinted, was no friend of the Chinese. He paid in his private life for taking this position, as one of his sons was among the few British soldiers to die in the expedition, in 1842. None of this is hinted at in any way or directly relevant to the Confessions, but it adds a strange and dark twist to De Quincey's and the opium question.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 August 2014
Incredibly trippy book written when De Quincey was hallucinating. It makes for an interesting read especially if you're into the whole orientalism and drugs thing. I found it harder to follow towards the end of the book for the obvious reason that the opiates had taken over and made his thoughts barely understandable.
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on 20 June 2015
Obviously De Quincy is intelligent and a good author, in my opinion. However, he is too flowery for my liking. What is interesting is his descriptions of how easy it was to procure Laudanam and how it distracts the brain, even in a well educated man.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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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on 11 October 2014
great book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2013
I really had trouble getting to grips with this book and did not really find it enjoyable.
De Quincey's tendency to ramble on and completely and utterly stray from what he was trying to say does make reading it a bit difficult and boring at points.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2013
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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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 2014
Excellent book. Original insight and ahead of its time. A principle book used for my essay question Masters on Romantics and their quest for imagination.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed this story very much is is a real insight into the life and times, a fascinating journey into the underbelly of the opium scene
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0 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 6 August 2012
Item arrived well within time, quality was as advertised, the packaging good. Would order itmes from this source in the future,
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