Sunday, July 20, 2008

Substance Abuse Noted in the Literature of the Victorian Era

Substance abuse & addiction mentioned in tons of books of the time ... too many to mention

• The ground breaking work of the autobiographical Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822) by Thomas de Quincey was published in 1821 in the London Magazine ... dealt with his laudanum addiction as a result of a falling out with poets Wordsworth & Coleridge

• speculation: Alfred Lord Tennyson's famous poem, "The Lotus Eaters" where he praises "slumber" over "toil" refers to the "exotic" consumption of hashish by Arabs (probably VERY accurate ... I am being charitable here)

• Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes was a drug addict

• Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel Kim deals with the ready availability of opium in India & its power to addict and corrupt. Kim’s father “came across the woman who smoked opium and learned the taste from her, and died as poor whites died in India” (Kim, 1) ... Kim, Chapter 3 has a wicked priest plotting to rob Kim’s Lama while he is under the influence of opium

• Wilkie Collins’s 1868 novel The Moonstone a nightcap is laced with laudanum

• Dickens’s unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) ... central character, John Jasper, is an opium addict who lives a seedy double life

Alcoholism reared its ugly little head in the “classics”

• 1885 ... Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ... Stevenson ... began to examine by alluding to drug and alcohol addiction, homosexuality, prostitution ... Jekyll buys a house once belonging to a "celebrated surgeon" and, "his own tastes being rather chemical than anatomical" turns the former dissecting rooms into a laboratory for self-experimentation (chapter 5)

• substance abuse is reflected in the writings of the Brontë sisters who reacted to their brother Branwell's alcoholism

• Thomas Hardy's novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, deals with an alcoholic family

In 1925, the League of Nations passed strict regulations on international heroin trade

As shocking as this may seem, there are some today that convincingly argue drug addiction and substance abuse was more prevalent during the Victorian Age than today.

~ From the notes of Lady Victorian Historian