De Quincey Essays

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Remarking on the placement of a small screen to divide different classes of passengers from each other, he invites us to consider how we can render unpleasantness invisible simply by choosing not to look at it.

He also plays with our notions of hierarchy by arguing that a coach's outside seats, which are cheaper, are actually better than the socially coveted ones inside the carriage.

Instead, he focused on finely wrought musings about such topics as roast pig, whist, chimney sweepers, and Valentine's Day.

Lamb and De Quincey underscored the essay's divergent paths in the period, which might be oversimplified as a choice between Lamb's genteel, Johnsonian disquisitions on the one hand and De Quincey's spill-your-guts school of personal confession on the other. What the reader notices in Lamb's essays, despite their air of safe charm, is how much of their author's poignant personal challenges subtly color the current of the commentary.

De Quincey was fascinated by the case and, ages before Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, drew upon the killings as inspiration for a lengthy literary narrative, "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." Like Capote, De Quincey seemed to have more interest in the mechanics of crime than its victims and was keen to commodify real-life tragedy into a cultural event.

His deepest vein of dark material came from his own life, which was dogged by pain from the start.He uses salutations such as "courteous reader" throughout the text of Confessions; but his prevailing attitude is that of a man who neither cherishes his readers nor especially cares if he has any.In one passage, he absolves himself of any blame for narrative jumbles and confusing chronology, admitting that My way of writing is rather to think aloud, and follow my own humors, than much to consider who is listening to me; and if I stop to consider what is proper to be said to this or that person, I shall soon come to doubt whether any part at all is proper.He was a poetry groupie who essentially stalked his idol, William Wordsworth.Virginia Woolf shrewdly suggested that De Quincey was, at base, a frustrated poet, never fully at home in the plainer particulars prose demanded: "His enemy, the hard fact, became cloudlike and supple under his hands," she wrote.In beautifully rendered compositions such as "New Year's Eve" and "A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People," the bittersweet loneliness of Lamb and his quietly heroic resilience come through.But what often seems missing from De Quincey, despite his promise of candor, is a sense of true intimacy with his audience.Along with such lucid arguments, however, De Quincey indulges in stream-of-consciousness paragraphs that read like William Blake by way of William S. Wilson argues for De Quincey's continuing relevance, mentioning that, in addition to Burroughs, he paved the way for such diverse writers as Virginia Woolf and Jorge Luis Borges.One does see hints of De Quincey in Woolf's essays; his telescoping from eye-level detail to cosmic speculation sometimes rhymes thematically with Woolf's "Street Haunting" and "The Death of the Moth." But De Quincey's work presents a model to be refined, not directly emulated.When Lamb was 20, his older sister Mary stabbed their mother to death during a mental breakdown and was remanded to Lamb's custody.It was the stuff of blockbuster memoir—the kind of story that today might be optioned to Hollywood—but Lamb didn't publicly write about the ordeal.


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