Monday, January 19, 2015

The Charles Dickens opium connection

The abuse of opium was relatively common in the nineteenth century, when narcotics were largely unregulated.

Many people in both America and the United Kingdom took opium in the form of laudanum, a liquid tincture formed from opium powder.

Although he was not known to be a regular abuser of the drug, British novelist Charles Dickens visited opium dens in London’s seedier sections on occasion. There he observed the pathetic clientele of these establishments. 

Charles Dickens

One particularly memorable opium addict became the inspiration for “Opium Sal”, a character in his final, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. 


Original cover of a serial installment of The Mystery of Edwin Drood


Dickens collaborator and contemporary Wilkie Collins, on the other hand, was a noted opium addict. Wilkie Collins is now largely forgotten, but in the 1860s he was one of the most popular novelists to work in the English language. Among Collins’s best-known works are The Woman in White, The Moonstone, and Armadale. Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins coauthored several works, including a briefly popular play called The Frozen Deep.

Wilkie Collins


Collins was addicted to laudanum, which he began using in his forties to relieve pain from gout.


The drug eventually led to a decline in both the quality and quantity of his output. Wilkie Collins died in 1889 at the age of 65.