Drug Use in Victorian England

I thought it was interesting that Dickens was compelled to address the problem of drug abuse in his final novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It got me thinking that drug abuse during the time had to be extremely prevalent, and so I searched around a little bit on the web and woof it sounds like the entire period needed an intervention. If you don’t remember, Dickens provides a very vivid depiction of the physical and mental effects of opium abuse in the opening of Edwin Drood, I’ll quote it in its entirety because its not that long: “Shaking from head to foot, the man whose scattered consciousness has thus fantastically pieced itself together, at length rises, supports his trembling frame upon his arms, and looks around. He is in the meanest and closest of small rooms. Through the ragged window-curtain, the light of early day steals in from a miserable court. He lies, dressed, across a large unseemly bed, upon a bedstead that has indeed given way under the weight upon it. Lying, also dressed and also across the bed, not longwise, are a Chinaman, a Lascar, and a haggard woman. The two first are in a sleep or stupor; the last is blowing at a kind of pipe, to kindle it. [1]

Apparently, at the time Dickens was writing restrictions for purchasing opiates and even cocaine were virtually nonexistent. With the hardships stemming from Industrial Revolution, many working class citizens attempt to escape their monotonous lives by resorting to drugs. I also learned that drug abuse in Victorian writing was a very common topic, and even many writers used drugs. Something I had never thought of until I read this article was that Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865) could itself be considered one big reference to opiates, as the article makes a pretty strong argument that I will include in this post as well, “the substances Alice consumes in Wonderland are never called drugs specifically, but her encounters with mysterious bottles filled with strange substances, cakes imprinted with injunctions to consume them, hookah-smoking caterpillars, and magical mushrooms — all of which appear to Alice in a dreamspace, and which distort her sense of her body, space, time and logic — have become associated in the popular imagination (today’s at least) with drug consumption. [1]

So if you are curious about this topic, I encourage you to read the article, I think you’ll find it very interesting. Drug Use in Victorian England

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