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High Times: Depictions of the Opium Den in Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Blanchard Jerrold and Gustave Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage by Wafiyyah Ali

Abstract: The opium den inhabits a unique place in the Victorian imagination. Equal parts abode of pleasure and signifier of moral decay, the opium dens that lay at the edges of London society captured the attention of writers, artists and poets not least of all because of the vast array of contradictions it offered. In a lot of ways opium itself embodied the many faces of Victorian society. It was evidence of the cultural importation which came with the ever-expanding British empire, it challenged the values of an increasingly rigid society, opened the door to spiritual and self-exploration and also exposed the gritty underbelly of a society facing unprecedented growth and change. Many well-known literary works of the time incorporated these imaginations of the opium den experience into their narrative, none quite as detailed or extensively as in Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Thus, to better understand the place and influence of the much-mythologized opium den I will be looking at this novel in combination with Gustave Doré’s woodcut illustration, Opium Smoking-The Lascar’s Room in Edwin Drood, from his and Blanchard Jerrold’s seminal account of life in Victorian London, London: A Pilgrimage.

Date created: 
Monday, June 6, 2022
Attribution for this resource:
High Times: Depictions of the Opium Den in Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Blanchard Jerrold and Gustave Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage by Wafiyyah Ali, All rights reserved.
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