College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts
Thomas De Quincey, Britain, China, Opium, Victorian medical use of opiates, Brunonianism, John Brown, Medical body, Personification of nations, National identity, Opium War
What light can De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) shed on its author's later advocacy of the First Opium War? To what degree did De Quincey's and other contemporaneous accounts of opium use in Britain influence metaphorical connections between bodily energy and national power in the 1830s and 1840s? Placing Confessions alongside John Brown's 1780 treatise, Elements of Medicine, this essay argues that De Quincey "nationalized" opium-eating by transforming mental exceptionality in British Romanticism into a medical body's connection with internal energies and external stimuli from China and "the Orient." The essay concludes that opium serves in De Quincey's Confessions as a crucial bridge between Romantic sublimity, in which it purportedly acted as a mysterious technology for self-strengthening, and Victorian consumerism, when the drug became both a popular commodity among national and global users.
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Copyright © 2020 Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in Literature and Medicine 38: 1 (Spring 2020), 1–25. Reprinted with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Literature and Medicine
Gao, Menglu, ""Founding Its Empire on Spells of Pleasure": Brunonian Excitability, the Invigorated English Opium-Eater, and De Quincey's "China Question"" (2020). English and Literary Arts: Faculty Scholarship. 18.
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