The Gift of Drugs: Oriental Geographies and Decolonizing Space in Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater


  • Mohammed Hamdan Department of English Language and Literature, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine



De Quincey, Confessions, space, arabesque, imperial, opium


This article argues that Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater subverts the colonial representation of foreign places by providing a counter geographical narrative of English imperialism. De Quincey’s subversion of colonial geographic and cultural superiority is made possible through the practice of opium-eating. Not only does the consumption of opium open up other dimensions and interpretations of non-English places that remain decentralized and inferior in colonial narratives, but it also helps to reshape the conventional configurations of the relationship between European selfhood and spatial otherness. In this regard, De Quincey’s employment of arabesque characteristics, which are essentially imaginative, non-referential and relational elements, frustrates the colonial potential and desire of mapping national spaces, here London, as a pivotal site of supremacist fantasy. In Confessions, all spaces turn abstract and are decentralized through the power of opium dreams in which arabesque geographies frustrate the dichotomous categorizations of spaces and selves as self/other or superior/inferior.

Author Biography

Mohammed Hamdan, Department of English Language and Literature, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine

Dr. Mohammed Hamdan is an associate professor of Anglo-American literary studies at An-Najah National University, Palestine. His main research interests include nineteenth-century transatlantic literary relations, Victorian fiction and gender studies. He is currently interested in literary translation, educational studies and comparative readings of exile, landscape and national identity in modern Palestinian, Arab and Israeli fiction.


Behnke, Kerstin. “Romantische Arabesken.” In Schrift. Ed. by Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer. Munich: W . Fink Verlag, 1993, pp. 101-123.

Blanchot, Maurice. The Space of Literature. Trans. by Ann Smock. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

De Quincey, Thomas. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Related Writings. Ed. by Joel Faflak. Peterborough, Canada: Broadview Editions, 2009.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgement. Trans. by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1976-1977.

Milligan, Barry. Pleasures and Pains: Opium and the Orient in Nineteenth-Century British Culture. Charlottesville, London: University of Virginia Press, 1995.

Rickett, Arthur. The Vagabond in Literature. London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1906.

Rogoff, Irit. Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Roth, Marty. “Victorian Highs: Detection, Drugs, And Empire.” In High Anxieties: Cultural Studies in Addiction. Ed. by Janet Farrell Brodie and Marc Redfield. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, pp. 85-97.

Strathausen, Carsten. “Eichendorff’s Das Marmorbild and the Demise of Romanticism.” In Reading Romanticism. Ed. by Martha B. Helfer. Amsterdam, Atlanta, GA: Rodopi: 1999, pp. 367-389.