Thomas De Quincey Criticism - Essay

V. A. De Luca (essay date 1980)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Giant Self: Suspiria de Profundis” in Thomas De Quincey: The Prose of Vision, University of Toronto Press, 1980, pp. 57-83.

[In the following essay, De Luca discusses the sequel to Confessions of an Opium-Eater as a blending of autobiography and myth.]

There is little precedent in other major Romantic writers for the strangely late onset of De Quincey's chief phase as an imaginative artist, a phase that begins with the Suspiria de Profundis of his sixtieth year and continues for a dozen years more. A last and climactic bout with the powers of opium, a struggle always fecund to his imagination, partially explains this...

(The entire section is 12497 words.)

D. D. Devlin (essay date 1983)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Art of Prose,” in De Quincey, Wordsworth and the Art of Prose, Macmillan Press, 1983, pp. 101-21.

[In the following essay, Devlin examines De Quincey's claims regarding “the hidden capacities of prose” to express passion and “grandeur.”]

‘To walk well, it is not enough that a man abstains from dancing.’


In the ‘General Preface’ of 1853 to James Hogg's Edinburgh edition of his collected works, De Quincey drew attention to the variety of his prose and to the originality of his prose-poems or impassioned prose. He made three divisions of what he had written;...

(The entire section is 7618 words.)

John C. Whale (essay date 1984)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Literature as Resistance and Power,” in Reluctant Autobiography, Barnes & Noble Books, 1984, pp. 40-77.

[In the following essay, Whale claims that De Quincey's autobiographical writings reveal a fertile tension between the power of imagination and the truth of past experience.]


In De Quincey's difficult situation as a journalist his progress in the act of composition could be both thwarted and encouraged by the varying degrees of intimacy and publicity connected with his context. An alignment of public and private responsibilities created a dichotomy in his appraisal of his own imaginative powers. This dichotomy is...

(The entire section is 13573 words.)

John Barrell (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Introduction: This/That/the Other,” in The Infection of Thomas De Quincey: A Psychopathology of Imperialism, Yale University Press, 1991, pp. 1-24.

[In the following essay, Barrell reads De Quincey's essays and autobiographical sketches as manifestations of an imperialist anxiety about the “Orient.”]

A ‘compromised’ person is one who has been in contact with people or things supposed to be capable of conveying infection. As a general rule the whole Ottoman empire lies constantly under this terrible ban.

A. W. Kinglake, Eothen, 14n.

He described the...

(The entire section is 11218 words.)

Alina Clej (essay date 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Prodigal Narratives,” in A Genealogy of the Modern Self: Thomas De Quincey and the Intoxication of Writing, Stanford University Press, 1995, pp. 76-89.

[In the following essay, Clej analyzes De Quincey's confessional narratives and essays through the trope of prodigiality and the figure of the pariah.]

The prodigal narrative that stands at the center of De Quincey's early confessions is his reckless flight from school, the “fatal error” that will follow him throughout his life and for which he can find no excuse. This youthful act of disobedience estranged him from his family (and from his mother's financial support) and left him to fend for himself....

(The entire section is 6327 words.)

Daniel Sanjiv Roberts (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “De Quincey's Discovery of Lyrical Ballads: The Politics of Reading,” in Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 36, No. 4, Winter, 1997, pp. 511-40.

[In the following essay, Roberts examines De Quincey's reading of Wordsworth and Coleridge's poetry within the context of De Quincey's literary life and the development of his political views.]

Thomas De Quincey's early reading of Lyrical Ballads has been widely hailed as the germinal event of his literary career. Biographers and critics have focused on De Quincey's astonishing recognition, at the age of fifteen, of Wordsworth as the predominant poetic figure of his age.1 By the age of seventeen,...

(The entire section is 13146 words.)

Charles J. Rzepka (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The ‘Dark Problem’ of Greek Tragedy: Sublimated Violence in De Quincey,” in The Wordsworth Circle, Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring, 1998, pp. 114-20.

[In the following essay, Rzepka contends that De Quincey's portraits of violence are deeply influenced by his reading of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy.]

“The Greek Tragedy is a dark problem,” announces Thomas De Quincey at the beginning of his essay, “Theory of Greek Tragedy” (X, 342),1 the problem being, first, how to distinguish between Greek and Modern, or “Shakespearean,” tragedy, and secondly, how to make this distinction intelligible to the un-Greeked, middle-class audience of...

(The entire section is 6112 words.)