Confessions of an English Opium Eater

Jonathan Derbyshire – Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821)

I’d give the prize to De Quincey’s Confessions. It’s not a novel, of course, though its veracity as first-person reportage was questioned from the beginning. In any case, De Quincey’s primary aim was not so much to demonstrate the “specific power” of opium as to reflect on the “mechanism of the imagination” itself. To that end, he follows his “own humours” rather than any “regular narrative”, and in doing so opens vistas previously unglimpsed in English prose. As Virginia Woolf observed in her essay on De Quincey, sometimes we encounter writing from which “we all draw our pleasure from the words themselves,” without having to make a “voyage of discovery into the psychology of the writer.” The Confessions, whatever its author’s shortcomings as an autobiographer, offers such pleasures in abundance.

Back to the Fantasy Prize collection