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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 March 2013
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 3 October 2011
De Quincey well understood that paradox lies at the heart of the philosophical quest for Truth. In fact I experienced my own minor example of this `belief in the expressive value of contrasts' within these very pages, starting from the basis that my maybe-not-entirely-typical reason for reading this book in the first place was because I am working my way through Horror Maestro Dario Argento's vintage movies and was interested in the De Quincey influence. So there was a definite contrast in discovering that the piece that specifically inspired the gory `Three Mothers' trilogy (`Suspiria', `Inferno', `The Mother of Tears') - namely `Suspirio de Profundis' - also contains a matchless evocation of the transcendental role of the proper 1662 Prayer Book version of the Church of England in the spiritual and actual life of the nation as it then was. No agonising if it is `relevant' in this account of it, it is God Speaking. If anything were capable of converting an English Catholic . . .

There is also a short passage on the first page of `Suspiria de Profundis' that has a prophetic aspect that seems to me to be the essence of De Quincey's vision. He is an English Visionary clearly in accord with his direct contemporaries Wordsworth and Coleridge, along with their Master of Visual Interpretation, Samuel `Shoreham' Palmer, in a trail that reaches down to the late great 20th century Radical Traditionalist John Michell. It is an inherently patriotic `conservative' vision that nevertheless, whilst having no truck with the poisonous nostrums of Socialism, likewise abhors the Industrial Revolution and that fraudulently named hoax `Free Trade.' That certain little passage at the beginning of `de Profundis' neatly summarises the problem and proffers the solution.

So first off, `Opium Eater' itself - the only one of the collection I had read before, but this is the original unrevised version and I much preferred it. The Macbeth Essay is as good as everyone says it is, `De Profundis' is indeed the sequel to `Opium Eater' that De Quincey claims it is, but it broadens the vision. The last piece, `The English Mail Coach', was frankly hard work for this particular reader; but it does elucidate how deep and real and important patriotism is. One way and another, this is not William Burroughs we are talking about here.

So nothing left then, but to offer sincere thanks to the tenebrous Signor Argento for pointing me the way to this vein of riches.

[Articles in preparation:

`Dr. Samuel Johnson's `Rasselas' and its influence on Sam Raimi.'

`The themes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's `Biographia Literaria' as worked through the films of George A Romero.']
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on 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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Confessions of an English Opium Eater recounts incidents and periods in the life of Thomas de Quincey, the troubled and talented associate of the Lake poets who became notorious for his use and abuse (by his own admission) of opium, mostly taken in its tincture form, Laudanum. As the title suggests, this unconventional autobiography is constructed to concentrate on the dominating aspect of de Quincey's unhappy existence; firstly illuminating the youthful experiences which affected his ultimate addiction (his schooldays, travels, and critical and penurious time in London), and then relating the effects of his established habit (including an indescribable rendering of the dreams induced by opium). The Confessions are removed from typical narrative and autobiography in all ways; content, style, structure, etc. Prose usually contains a main body or trunk of plot which branches out to develop story and character in various scenes. De Quincey, however, details particular branches which constitute apparently narrow areas of his experience, which he explores with microscopic forcefulness until the reader can distinguish the veins in all the attached leaves. It is only once this exposure is executed that the leaves fall away and allow us to observe the full formation of the tree. Thomas first used opium (at the suggestion of either a classmate or a demon) when suffering from toothache as a young man, but such a simplistic episode cannot explain his usage, least of all to himself. Rather, Opium was the nexus in a life the sum of which displays a general drama of suffering.

Superficially, de Quincey's claims to torment might be dismissible. His father's death (aged 39) might be conceded, but his objections to his position in life seem unjustified compared to the lot of even the average man (he was born to a prosperous family, educated, and so on.). However, hard is the reader who adopts this ruthless assessment and who cannot empathise with his very real distress. Those who have shared similar thoughts or pains will regard him as a brother. Suffering has never respected material privileges and de Quincey was a boy and then a man of uncommon sensibilities, whose compassion for others is as immensurable as is his eloquence in defining his own discomfort and ennui. In London he becomes friendly with a prostitute named Ann, who he then loses after leaving the city for a few days. His imagining their looking for each other among the myriads lining the endless streets of the metropolis is among the most poignant passages I have ever encountered.

Indifference to de Quincey's writing is incredible. It is something you either love or hate (I profess the former persuasion), but what is certain is that he possesses one of the most unique, inimitable voices in 19th century literature. His favourite writers are Burton, Barrow, Browne, Bacon, amongst other 17th masters, and from these influences he collects the inexhaustibly ornate sentence and the varying paragraph charged with wit. Yet de Quincey's style is his own, throbbing with poetic description and philosophical and psychological analysis. His mammoth knowledge invades the slightest subject, and means that what less aggravated minds might put in a sentence, could take several pages for de Quincey to elucidate. (When discussing his guardians, he must uncover the historical expression of the term right back to ancient Rome. He cannot resist correcting what is meant by Grammar in regards to Grammar school. There are countless similar examples). He has perhaps the most impressive lexicon of any writer within his period, and uses several words that you simply will rarely if ever come across elsewhere. He uses these uncommon words with discretion and exactness, and they do not interrupt the flow of his prose.* And this throbbing, surging flow is irresistible! De Quincey's writing is a river; he is Ganges as an Englishman, sanctified and poisoned, resuscitative and destructive, a mystical life source and a floating umbrageous cemetery. His elaborate utilization of language and learning is not ostentation, it is unrestrained grandeur.

De Quincey is ambivalent towards opium; he does not apologise for his opium addiction and clearly deems it less damaging to the individual (we must remember he was capable of writing magnificently under its influence, and it is therfore understandable why he thought this) and society than alcohol, but nor is he salacious or compelling others to follow his example; he simply regards opium as the only anodyne for those suffering from untreatable physical pain and, particularly, from nervous disorder (at the time). He does not disguise the fact that opium's drawbacks are almost unbearably harrowing. He is sometimes contradictory, for example he seems to retract his justification of using the drug when revisiting the vivid horrors of past dreams, and despite his overriding sympathy he appears distant from his mother. His rationale for believing opium is not addictive seems dubious. But the fact he does not remove inconsistencies argues his honesty. He is occasionally amusing, (his reference to receiving a letter addressed Monsieur Monsieur is hilarious), often haunting, and always encourages diverse and delicate emotional responses.

De Quincey's masterpiece is both ethereal and all too human; gloom has never glistened so. Suspiria de Profundis is also exquisitely written.

*Providing you are a confident reader. If your reading or vocabulary is limited you may find this book jarring as you will have to keep a dictionary close at hand. Furthermore, de Quincey routinely uses Latin and Greek words and phrases which may be additionally problematic.
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on 12 February 2016
I listened to Side I.... which only had one track and lasted over 70 minutes!.....and sadly I had to return the recording to the supplier. I've never read
De Quincey and was most surprise to learn of his early life, which was horrendously poverty-stricken. The reader sets a brisk pace never dawdling
and drawing the listened in. On the strength of side 1, would I but another set? Probably not: I was expecting opium to play a major part . However,
De Quincey writes well and I might change my mind; I've had the book for 20 plus years!
I congratulate Naxos for this issue (and Tale of a Tub) for bringing out classics of non-fiction as well as their valuable fiction recordings.
Try ebay for much of their catalogue: their recordings can be dire, because volunteers read them but, on the other hand, some ebay versions are in
the professional category. And at about £2 or £3 for say Desperate Remedies who's complaining?
Side One - a single track, over 70 minutes!
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on 12 February 2015
Hard to read because of the old fashioned language... Never finished this because I wasn't to fussed about the end really
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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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on 21 September 2012
I love this book. A collection of strange articles written by an opium addict. It was a big influence on Virginia Woolf and I found it through a footnote in To the Lighthouse. It's not an easy read and I didn't enjoy all the essays, but others have had a lasting effect on me. I will read them again and agin. They are worth studying and I recommend that you read the introduction. Really essential for anyone interested in the development of modern literature and representations of time and modernity.
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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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on 20 July 2017
An interesting read. I was pleased with this book. It was keenly priced and arrived quickly. Good service.
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