Customer Review

56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Confessions of an English Opium Eater, 30 Jan 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Confessions of an English Opium-eater (English Library) (Paperback)
Anyone looking to read a juicy, scandalous account of opium in the 19th century will be bitterly disappointed. That is not to say that De Quincey's work is not brilliant and engaging. However, his prose style can be frustrating to the reader in search of simple entertainment. It is only towards the end of the book that De Quincey begins to describe his opium visions-- the rest of the narrative is a dense, minutely detailed account of his childhood and the struggles of his adolescence. He takes the reader through various stages in his life in passages which are extremely digressive and wordy. However, If the reader is patient enough to labor through the prose, he or she will be richly rewarded by the eloquence of a brilliant mind. De Quincey's style could be compared to a musical work which moves slowly, yet progresses to a crescendo all the more grand for its deliberation. His stock of knowledge is immense, and he writes with authority on virtually every subject from the poetry of Wordsworth to the etymology of his own name. He seems to delight in the process of memory and its property of magnifying incidents of the past to mythical proportions and setting patterns for the future. He takes a psychoanalytic view of his life years before Freud. To him, opium seems a prism through which to examine the themes of his past, and his narrative is largely a psychological self-scrutiny. In his early life, De Quincey runs away from school, tramps around in Wales, sets off for London, and lives penniless and starving among prostitutes and men of dubious reputation. A highly sympathetic character, he strives to learn from all humans regardless of station. He describes his wanderings in detail, discusses the impact of opium upon his life, and concludes by describing a few of his dreams in passages which approach virtuosity in style. He reveals himself as a thoughtful nonconformist driven to share his innermost perceptions of himself and the world. Alethea Hayter's introduction details his life and works, and the carefully chosen excerpts from his letters and revised version of the Confessions round out the reader's view of De Quincey.
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