Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey
Book 6 for 2017
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 4, 2016)
Publishers Weekly Ten Best Nonfiction Books of 2016
Thomas De Quincey was an obsessive. He was obsessed with Wordsworth and Coleridge, whose Lyrical Balladsprovided the script to his life, and by the idea of sudden death. Running away from school to pursue the two poets, De Quincey insinuated himself into their world. Basing his sensibility on Wordsworth’s and his character on Coleridge’s, he forged a triangle of unusual psychological complexity.
Aged twenty-four, De Quincey replaced Wordsworth as the tenant of Dove Cottage, the poet’s former residence in Grasmere. In this idyllic spot he followed the reports of the notorious Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, when two families, including a baby, were butchered in their own homes. In his opium-soaked imagination the murderer became a poet while the poet became a murderer. Embedded in On Murder as One of the Fine Arts, De Quincey’s brilliant series of essays, Frances Wilson finds the startling story of his relationships with Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Opium was the making of De Quincey, allowing him to dissolve self-conflict, eliminate self-recrimination, and divest himself of guilt. Opium also allowed him to write, and under the pseudonym “The Opium-Eater” De Quincey emerged as the strangest and most original journalist of his age. His influence has been considerable. Poe became his double; Dostoevsky went into exile with Confessions of an English Opium-Eater in his pocket; and Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, Alfred Hitchcock, and Vladimir Nabokov were all De Quincey devotees.
There have been other biographies of Thomas De Quincey, but Guilty Thing is the first to be animated by the spirit of De Quincey himself. Following the growth of his obsessions from seed to full flowering and tracing the ways they intertwined, Frances Wilson finds the master key to De Quincey’s vast Piranesian mind. Unraveling a tale of hero worship and revenge, Guilty Thing brings the last of the Romantics roaring back to life and firmly establishes Wilson as one of our foremost contemporary biographers.
After reading David Morrell's trilogy, which included a character named Thomas De Quincey. And after my girlfriend in England, Cath, told me he was a real person, I wanted to know about him. Several months ago I downloaded his Autobiography of Confessions of an Opium Eater, but when I read it, it was only 48 pages, so I thought it wasn't the whole book. I have since found out the "book version" isn't very long either. I therefore put it on the back burner, so to speak, and forgot about it until recently when I read the third book of Morrell's trilogy, Ruler of the Night. My interest got sparked again. So I sent for this book, Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey.
I did find out what parts I read of him in Morrell's novels were true and what was not.
I found out De Quincey added the "De" to his name, it was only Quincey.
He was but 4 foot 11 inches tall. He had 7 siblings, he loved poetry and taught him self how to speak and write fluent Greek.
De Quincey, was known as the Opium Eater, because he chose to present himself as he really was. He began on Laudanum drops for a headache and it escalated and by 1813 he was taking 8,000 drops a day.
His other addictions included books and indebtedness. Living much of his time on the streets.
Eventually, he married his servant and had 8 children .
The book was not easy for me to read. I am not literate in many long words and the author chose to write in the manor or the literate people such as De Quincey to write the book. I did persist and did read the entire book, and it was interesting. It also spoke of the era in which he lived and other authors known in literature of that time.
Not a book for everyone, but surely a book for someone who wanted to know about Thomas De Quincey: the Opium Eater.