Delinquency (if I may coin that word) and the Conditions of an English Leg-Puller

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In 1821, like a messenger out of the dark (or a literary leg-puller), the English Opium-Eater arrived as if offering some saving play of mind in an obdurately literalising age. He conflated the two most reputedly chthonic regions: Hell, and the East. The language was ravishing, precise, unpredictable, and viscerally xenophobic (‘… in China or Indostan … I was kissed, with cancerous kisses, by crocodiles; and laid, confounded with all unutterable slimy things …’). De Quincey was not to be taken too seriously.

But the author of ‘Confessions’ has inspired some poised indignation. For example, for Albert Goldman, De Quincey was more of a literary taker than a giver, and not least as Wordsworth and Coleridge's most prolific plagiarist. Arguably though, such a criticism looks unhelpfully hard-nosed when one considers the self-consciousness of De Quincey's secondariness, the deeply disturbed state of his mind, and the counter-inflationary quality of his sense of humour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-283
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Early online date30 Sep 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Sep 2021


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