The Romantic Period saw the rise of poetry inspired by “the familiar” and centered on reviving the wonder of it. It was categorized by poems like Percy Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” or William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abby” that described nature in a new light. One text, however, that stands out against these poems, is Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. De Quincey’s book described first-hand poverty and addiction and took place in the city of London. It served as a diary of De Quincey’s experiences in life and his struggle with being lonely and being in denial about an addition. While his novel was far from being about nature in the ways that Shelley’s and Wordsworth’s poetry were, it still used a similar style of romanticizing a situation. In his novel, De Quincey romanticizes both poverty and drug addiction in such a way that you can forget it is even about a drug addiction.
De Quincey makes drug addition look better than it is by defending it and explaining what benefits it brings to him. He explains that it creates a state of pleasurable excitement for him and helps relieve pain that he has, admitting he used it daily. To his defense, he does have a section titled “The Pains of Opium” yet from it he explains that once he started to take less of it, he felt happier. He never fully stopped taking it, just lessened his doses and refused to admit that he was addicted to it. He does, however, explain that his usage of the drug messed with his head and he had since then had terrible and confusing dreams. While this does show the negative side of opium, he does not talk about any physical effects and the idea of dreams makes it even more romantic. This limited explanation and reveal of the drawbacks of drug addiction helps portray it in a more positive and romantic light. He never admits to being addicted and therefore never quits it.
Aside from the drug addiction, De Quincey wrote about how he lived in poverty in London and how he befriended and fell in love with a child prostitute. Early in the book he explains he is living inn to inn without a real home until he runs out of money and then wanders on the street. He is hungry and poor, but above all else he is lonely. Although he does explain that he is homeless, it is easy to gloss over it and focus on the girl he meets. This girl, Ann, is also poor and De Quincey soon falls in love with her, waiting on the streets to see her again. It actually wasn’t until a class discussion that I realized she is in fact a prostitute. De Quincey writes in such a way as to omit the terrible parts so that he can romanticize his romance for this prostitute who is only a child. He makes poverty and prostitution seem better than it actually is. He also does this with his drug addition, making it look better than it probably actually was. Although De Quincey’s novel looks out of place at first with it being about a drug addiction and not nature, it fits in with the period as he romanticizes poverty and his drug addiction.
One thought on “Confessions of a Romanticized Addiction”
Great blog post on Romanticism! I totally agree with how you said that De Quincy makes drug addiction look better than it really is by defending it, and romanticizing it. It is interesting how he can try to make something bad look good and poetic.