Places: Confessions of an English Opium Eater

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1821

Type of work: Essays

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Manchester Grammar School

*Manchester Confessions of an English Opium EaterGrammar School. School in the city of Manchester in England that is roughly equivalent to an American prep school. There, the adolescent Thomas De Quincey’s already delicate health is strained by the arduousness of his experience and his boredom with the school environment and his guardians and mentors. He begins grappling with his health problems and bodily pains, especially of the liver. The gloomy climate and rains of Manchester make his educational experiences even more dismal. After some deliberation, he resolves to leave the school and becomes a vagrant.


*London. Capital city of Great Britain in which De Quincey eventually settles after running away from Manchester Grammar School. Getting by on borrowed money, he lives precariously by wandering cold streets by night and sleeping by day. His poor health and disillusionment grow, forcing him to live frugally and in a period of intellectual decline and aimlessness. Despite being Britain’s greatest city, London does not improve De Quincey’s outlook on life or his prospects.

*Worcester College

*Worcester College (WEW-ster). College of Oxford University in which De Quincey enrolls at the urging of his family. While developing a deep interest in German philosophy and literature at Oxford, De Quincey begins using opium, initially for medicinal purposes, to ease his physical pains, but he eventually becomes addicted. He leaves Worchester College without completing his degree.


*Grasmere. Village in England’s Lake District in which De Quincey settles. There, his addiction to opium reaches its height. He leads a sedentary life in his small cottage, where he succumbs completely to the power of opium. In the first stage of his addiction, opium gives him peace and harmony. He has a great affection for his cottage, which he adorns with old books, draperies, and other accoutrements. He is content to live in his cottage, using opium and reading great literature. This languid lifestyle initially seems ideal to De Quincey, who attributes his happiness to the freshness and natural beauty of Grasmere. In the second stage of his opium habit, however, De Quincey begins experiencing depression, melancholy, and hallucinations. His life becomes even less active as he slowly realizes that opium addiction creates more health problems than it cures, and he experiences fantastic and disturbing dreams.

De Quincey depicts Grasmere with such poetic affection and picturesque seriousness that he thinks the village’s fresh air should revive his health and remove his melancholy.

BibliographyHayter, Alethea. “De Quincey (I)” and “De Quincey (II).” In Opium and the Romantic Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. Discusses De Quincey’s conviction that creativity was rooted in one’s dreams, and that he felt opium enhanced those dreams.Rzepka, Charles J. “The Body, the Book, and ‘The True Hero of the Tale’: De Quincey’s 1821 Confessions and Romantic Autobiography as Cultural Artifact.” In Studies in Autobiography, edited by James Olney. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Argues that the person who is supposedly De Quincey in Confessions of an English Opium Eater is a fabrication, and this fabrication is created anew in the mind of each reader.Whale, John C. “De Quincey’s Anarchic Moments.” Essays in Criticism: A Quarterly Journal of Literary Criticism 33, no. 4 (October, 1983): 273-293. Discusses that although many critics compare De Quincey’s book to William Wordsworth’s The Prelude (1850), often critics do not point out that whereas Wordsworth celebrates as fruitful the link between past, present, and future, De Quincey finds the link menacing. Argues that De Quincey concentrates his attention on powers of individual consciousness, which can be capricious.Wordsworth, Jonathan. “The Dark Interpreters: Wordsworth and De Quincey.” The Wordsworth Circle 17, no. 2 (Spring, 1986): 40-50. Argues that the reader’s chief problem is to discern how De Quincey’s perception of suffering reconciles with the perception of darkness as horror and of darkness as wisdom. Points out that in De Quincey’s understanding, suffering earns hope for the future.Young, Michael Cochise. “ ‘The True Hero of the Tale’: De Quincey’s Confessions and Affective Autobiographical Theory.” In Thomas De Quincey: Bicentenary Studies, edited by Robert Lance Snyder. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985. Argues that De Quincey’s preoccupation with time pushes the book in opposite directions. The book attempts closure within time and transcendence of chronological limits.
Categories: Places