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About the book
  • Published: 5 September 2003
  • ISBN: 9780140439014
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $17.99

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater




A masterpiece of autobiography, and perhaps the first literary memoir of an addict, the Penguin Classics edition of Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is edited with an introduction by Barry Milligan.
Confessions is a remarkable account of the pleasures and pains of worshipping at the 'Church of Opium'. Thomas De Quincey consumed daily large quantities of laudanum (at the time a legal painkiller), and this autobiography of addiction hauntingly describes his surreal visions and hallucinatory nocturnal wanderings through London, along with the nightmares, despair and paranoia to which he became prey. The result is a work in which the effects of drugs and the nature of dreams, memory and imagination are seamlessly interwoven, describing in intimate detail the mind-altering pleasures and pains unique to opium. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater forged a link between artistic self-expression and addiction, paving the way for later generations of literary addicts from Baudelaire to James Frey, and anticipating psychoanalysis with its insights into the subconscious.
This edition is based on the original serial version of 1821, and reproduces two 'sequels', 'Suspiria de Profundis' (1845) and 'The English Mail-Coach' (1849). It also includes a critical introduction discussing the romantic figure of the addict and the tradition of confessional literature, and an appendix on opium in the nineteenth century.
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.
If you enjoyed Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, you might like William S. Burroughs' Junky, available in Penguin Modern Classics.
'De Quincey was one of the first great autobiographers'
Jonathan Bate

  • Pub date: 5 September 2003
  • ISBN: 9780140439014
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $17.99

About the Author

Thomas De Quincey

Thomas De Quincey was born on 15 August 1789 in Manchester, the son of an affluent cloth merchant. He ran away from the Manchester Grammar school aged 17 and travelled in poverty in Wales and London before being reconciled with his family. He then attended Oxford University, where he first began to take opium. Despite excelling at his studies, De Quincey left university without completing his degree and married Margaret Simpson, the daughter of a local farmer. Having exhausted his inheritance, partly due to his addiction to opium, De Quincey found work as a journalist and wrote prolifically on various subjects for numerous publications. Confessions of a English Opium-Eater was published in the London Magazine in 1821 and found instant success. He went on to write several novels and biographies, and his unusual autobiographical style made his work extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. When De Quincey's wife Margaret died in 1837, his opium addiction worsened and he moved away from London to Scotland to relieve his straitened finances. He died in Edinburgh on 8 December 1859.

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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