Author(s): Frances Wilson
'Life for De Quincey was either angels ascending on vaults of cloud or vagrants shivering on the city streets.' Thomas De Quincey - opium-eater, celebrity journalist, and professional doppelganger - is embedded in our culture. Modelling his character on Coleridge and his sensibility on Wordsworth, De Quincey took over the poet's former cottage in Grasmere and turned it into an opium den. Here, increasingly detached from the world, he nurtured his growing hatred of his former idols and his obsession with murder as one of the fine arts. De Quincey may never have felt the equal of the giants of the Romantic Literature he so worshipped but the writing style he pioneered - scripted and sculptured emotional memoir - was to inspire generations of writers: Dickens, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf. James Joyce knew whole pages of his work off by heart and he was arguably the father of what we now call psychogeography. This spectacular biography, the produce of meticulous scholarship and beautifully supple prose, tells the riches-to-rags story of a figure of dazzling complexity and dazzling originality, whose rackety life was lived on the run, and both brings De Quincey and his martyred but wild soul triumphantly to life and firmly establishes Frances Wilson in the front rank of contemporary biographers.
The life of Thomas De Quincey - a dynamic and unique biography of the most mysterious member of the Wordsworth circle and the last of the Romantics.
A writer's writer who will no doubt inspire her own cult following -- Amanda Foreman Stunning ... A brilliant, giddy-making portrait ... Wilson's narrative [has] a wonderfully hallucinatory effect ... Energetic and wonderfully compelling -- Kathryn Hughes Mail on Sunday In connecting the architecture of De Quincey's wild, opium-fuelled mind with physical surroundings, Wilson provides a handrail through the pandemonium and isolation. He emerges from her book a sympathetic but irresponsible obsessive... Wilson has successfully brought De Quincey out from under the shadow of his contemporaries. He stands before us deeply flawed ... But he was also a dreamer of the best dreams in literature -- Ruth Scurr Daily Telegraph A richly intelligent and well-informed study, which will surely become the favoured one of our time Financial Times Tremendous ... A seamless, stirring, sublime biography, which takes you to the heart, or rather the head, of the opium-eater. Whether you are more repelled or mesmerised by him, it's hard to dispute that De Quincey was the most complex and unpredictable writer of his times Evening Standard Multilayered and wonderfully insightful -- John Walsh Sunday Times A book that captures in both form and focus something of its subject's disorienting, brilliant unpredictability ... There are plenty of stylistic fireworks worthy of De Quincey here. Comets whiz through the pages, as do snippets of poetry, narrative diversions and gruesome details of the various contemporary murders by which De Quincey was fascinated ... The result is a great, complicated book, in which a host of competing ideas and images jostle for supremacy Observer Guilty Thing brings triumphantly into focus a life racked by opium's insidious effects ... Beautifully crafted, Frances Wilson's narrative sets up patterns, mirrors and doublings that make multiple intersections between De Quincey's inner and outer worlds. An impressive contribution to literary biography, her book amounts to the most 'De Quinceyan' account of De Quincey we are likely to see Literary Review Wilson is forensic about the terrors lurking in De Quincey's imagination ... Wilson's quirky, urgent biography, which is clearly steeped in extensive knowledge of the period, is an essential guide to this remarkable drug addict -- Daisy Goodwin The Times By turns amused, appalled and empathetic, Wilson paints such a riveting multi-tonal portrait that one ends up with a strong regard for De Quincey's rare vision but at the same time an absolute certainty one would not invite him to dinner ... She beautifully binds and catches us in the web of his imagination ... In her pursuit, Wilson often catches decisively this most elusive character, and the chase is exhilarating -- Hermione Eyre Spectator Wonderfully insightful Sunday Times It is, like its subject's own best work, written with studied panache, respectful irreverence and relish of the macabre Glasgow Herald A superb, excitable biography ... Exceptional ... De Quincey's shifting relationship with Coleridge and Wordsworth is central to the book ... Wilson's other great theme is his obsession with murder ... This is a superb book, more tangly, obsessive and excitable than previous biographies, and in that sense more in tune with its subject -- Book of the Week Guardian Artful and nuanced ... As complex, intriguing and multifarious as "the Last of the Romantics" himself Prospect Excellent ... A riveting glimpse into the opium-marinated Victorian age and its tormented Romantic geniuses. De Quincey's story is stranger and more confounding than most fiction The Lady Exhilarating ... Startling ... Inventive ... Wilson circumscribes her subject in an ingeniously De Quinceyan fashion ... What distinguishes [the biography's] achievement is Wilson's ability to mirror the mercurial texture of De Quincey's own selective and thrillingly digressive way of telling a story ... Her remarkable book engenders in its readers those modes of thinking necessary to follow De Quincey as he shifts unpredictably into and out of every shape Times Literary Supplement Brilliantly possessed -- Andrew Motion Observer An ingeniously structured biography of a brilliant, ridiculously self-destructive man, and a beautifully written cultural history full of arresting insights into celebrity and hero-worship and the public's prurient fascination with violence -- Lucy Hughes-Hallett Observer I'm as addicted to Frances Wilson's writing as her latest subject, Thomas de Quincey, was to opiates, Romantic poets and murder. Guilty Thing is an irresistible journey through the life of the obsessive, anarchic original flaneur. Borges said De Quincey was an almost infinite world of literature in one man. Wilson succeeds in conjuring this world in one exhilarating, rigorous and humorous book that is the most enjoyable journey into hell you're ever likely to take -- Rachel Holmes Guardian Thrilling, chilling and frequently funny, this superlative biography tells the story of De Quincey's various obsessions: Wordsworth, murder, and "the divine luxuries of opium". Addictive reading -- Books of the Year Sunday Times Wilson's prose has some of the same hallucinatory loveliness that De Quincey used in his verse and journalistic essays, and the result is thrillingly immersive -- Kathryn Hughes Guardian, 'Books of the Year' A brilliant, giddy-making, hallucinatory portrait -- Books of the Year Mail on Sunday From every aspect the year's most spirit-stirring biography is Frances Wilson's Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey -- Books of the Year Times Literary Supplement Like De Quincey himself, Frances Wilson has the capacity to make us look again at something we thought we'd already seen -- Paul Muldoon Times Literary Supplement Frances Wilson's sympathetic, clever and well-wrought biography of Thomas De Quincey, Guilty Thing makes him start and startle as never before -- Andrew Motion Guardian Exceptionally rich -- Gaby Wood Daily Telegraph
Frances Wilson is a critic, journalist and the author of four works of non-fiction, Literary Seductions, The Courtesan's Revenge, The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, which won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in 2009, and How To Survive the Titanic; or The Sinking of J Bruce Ismay, winner of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for historical biography in 2012. She lives in London with her daughter.