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

3.9 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 a professor of English at Wright State University and author of Pleasures and Pains (Virginia UP, 1995).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition edition (April 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140439013
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140439014
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
De Quincey's reputation seems to be, at the moment, in sort of a dip, which is a shame because as other reviewers have pointed out, this is a wonderful book. Even his current biographer (Robert Morrison) has taken some unwarranted heat for his troubles, as for some reason the reviewer's of his biography see De Quincey as a drug addict who just happened to write and not a as he actually was, a brilliant writer who happened to be an addict. His reputation is probably not being helped by bandying about praise from such nonentities as William S. Burroughs and the likes either. Melville loved this book, calling it "Most wondrous," and I feel he's on the mark. De Quincey wasn't an easy man to get along with, but what artist was? This book is funny, witty, learned (bad word in today's society), and the prose is incredible. The book is one gigantic digression. Next to Rousseau's Confessions (which so astonished me I read it through twice, back to back), two of my favorite books in this literary genre. Read it on a slow winter evening, savor the prose of a wonderful book...
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