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Confessions of an English Opium Eater Paperback – April 29, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (April 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140439013
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140439014
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) studied at Oxford and failed to take his degree but discovered opium. He later met Coleridge, Southey, and the Wordsworths and worked as a journalist in Edinburgh.


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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Alan D. Gray on August 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
I stumbled on this book while I was a long-haired undergrad in college many years ago, and I selected it (probably because of the intriguing, rebellious-sounding title) to write a term paper on for a class I was taking in biography. I have nursed a special attraction for this work of literary art ever since those days, and currently own it in several different editions, including this one from Penguin Classics.

While his writing is probably tough-going for the typical modern day reader, De Quincey was truly a master stylist of English prose (one of the greatest who ever lived) and the writing here is lushly impeccable -- beautiful and poetic. Contemporary readers, do not be afraid of this kind of book! Sure, it might be difficult to read (it's certainly not "dummied down" like so much modern day stuff), but if you don't try, I think you'll be missing out on a great adventure. After all, consider, Shakespeare and the Bible are difficult to read too!

In any event, these writings of De Quincey's, quite autobiographical, tell of the marvelous stimulus to creativity and pleasure that opium can provide (at least, in the initial phases) to those who become emeshed in her dark empire, as well as the chilling aftermath -- the pathetic fear and trembling that inevitably follow from addiction. At his peak usage, I have read that De Quincey was doing around 8,000 drops a day (approximately 80 teaspoons). As one of the other reviewers here correctly noted, tincture of opium (I think that it actually came as a liquid blend of opium, drinking alcohol, and cinnamon) was sold over-the-counter as medicine in neighborhood apothecary shops (drug stores and pharmacies) in those days.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ed the Scot on May 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is English that one can luxuriate in and enjoy for it's precision and beauty. There are few if any English compositions that better convey subjective feeling than this book. You feel as though you are inside the author's mind as he writes so exactly and sympathetically.

As a recounting of a man's struggle with addiction it is a compelling story.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Grigory's Girl on October 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
I first heard of this book because the great Italian horror film maker, Dario Argento, was inspired by the writings of De Quincey, specifically this book. This book contains De Quincey's most famous work, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and 2 unofficial sequels, Suspiria de Profundis (Suspiria is the title of Dario's most famous film), and The English Mail Coach. Suspiria has an essay entitled Levana and our Ladies of Sorrow in which De Quincey talks about the 3 ladies (some have said the three mothers as well). They are the lady of tears, sighs, and darkness. Dario's 2 films, Suspiria and Inferno, are about these mothers/ladies. He just completed the third film. This is the reason I purchased the book.

De Quincey's prose is definitely difficult to read (it's not an easy, mindless self help book), but it is definitely worth reading, and it's absolutely fascinating as Thomas accounts for his opium habit, and the ways it affected him and his work. Opium was staggeringly popular during De Quincey's time, and it wasn't very difficult to get. De Quincey published the confessions twice. The original, shorter version is the one you have here, and it's the only one still available. The longer version (which I have read to some degree) is good too, but it feels padded and is rather uneven. Most scholars have agreed that the shorter version is better. I wish they had included the longer version so we could compare ourselves, but I'm happy this edition is out.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David M. Giltinan on October 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
After circling this book for years, I finally read it this week. And it knocked my socks off. DeQuincey writes like an angel. Even in the less structured passages (his descriptions of his opium dreams are somewhat disjointed) his writing is so astonishingly brilliant that the reader is swept along.

In her introduction to the Penguin Classic edition, Alethea Hayter describes DeQuincey's prose as "highly charged, close-textured, every word and syllable choice enriched with music and imagery", "prose (that) works like a spell, powerfully moving even apart from the meaning of the words."

I can't improve on that characterization.
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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Birkett on November 30, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's a classic of course, but not very readable as pure entertainment.Probably the parts about his opium addiction, which are pages 44-88, are of most interest today. To be frank, most of the rest is hard going unless you're adept at reading early nineteenth century English, perhaps an English or history major. De Quincey was a rambling and digressive writer, even by nineteenth century standards. There is some fascination in the interlocking lives of this circle of writers of the romantic movement (the "Lake Poets";Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, and their contemporaries Keats, Shelley and Byron) especially if you've read Richard Holmes's wonderful biographies.

You can get the "Confessions of an English Opium Eater" alone cheaper in the Dover edition. This Penguin Classics edition contained other writings which are of limited appeal, but the notes and the introduction and appendix by Barry Mulligan make it more understandable and provide useful historical background about opium use.

Opium was freely available over the counter in England until 1858, so this could be read as a warning about what might happen with legalization. It has always been a puzzle that De Quincey and Coleridge described vivid dreams and hallucinations as part of their experience, whereas opioids used by addicts today are not usually hallucinogenic. De Quincey was aware that his experiences were atypical and offered his own explanations ("one whose talk is of oxen will dream of oxen").

I was intrigued his account of the relief of his withdrawal symptoms by the use of valerian (prescribed by Bell of Bell's palsy).
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