cover image Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey

Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey

Frances Wilson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-16730-1

Wilson (How to Survive the Titanic: or, The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay) will enthrall readers with this mesmerizing and agile biography of English writer Thomas De Quincey, “the last of the Romantics.” De Quincey (1785–1859) is best known for the autobiographical Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which kicked off his literary career and arguably gave birth to the genre of literature devoted to addiction and recovery. Wilson makes a good case that opium, which De Quincey began taking at 19, was the making of him, freeing him from his “torments” and allowing him unfettered access to his inner life. Wilson captures De Quincey’s riches-to-rags story, complex personality (“at [its] core were his addictions. Opium was one and debt another”), and obsession with the poet William Wordsworth, whose writing he revered, but whom he grew to loathe personally. Wilson also reveals that, for all of De Quincey’s classical learning, he was a “born journalist” with a taste for sensationalism, as well as a talented biographer responsible for some of the best portraits of Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy. In an impressively researched biography as dazzling as its subject, Wilson highlights De Quincey’s influence on Edgar Allan Poe, Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Baudelaire, and many others, amply demonstrating his lasting influence. [em](Oct.) [/em]