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Murder as a Fine Art - David Morrell ”THE COLOR OF LAUDANUM IS RUBY. It is a liquid that consists of 90 percent alcohol and 10 percent opium. Its taste is bitter. A Swiss-German alchemist invented it in the 1500s when he discovered that opium dissolved more effectively in alcohol than in water. In the 1660s, an English physician refined the formula, removed impurities such as the crushed pearls and the gold leaves, and prescribed it as a medicine for headaches as well as stomach, bowel, and nervous disorders. By the Victorian-era, laudanum was so widely used as a pain reducer that virtually every household owned a bottle. Considering that opium’s derivatives include morphine and heroin, laudanum’s reputation as a pain reducer was well founded.”

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Thomas De Quincey’s name can not be stated without adding the words Opium-Eater. He was much better known for his vices than even for his fine writing. In 1822 he scandalously wrote a book called Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. I have not read the book, but it is my understanding that he is shockingly candid about his addiction. This overshadows a book he wrote in 1827 called On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts. He wrote rather enthusiastically and graphically about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders that occurred in London in 1811.
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Thomas De Quincey by Sir John Watson-Gordon

They were brutal, bloody crimes committed in a shop keeper’s house. The murderer smashed everyone’s skulls including a nine month old baby. The same madman, John Williams, then killed several people in a pub. De Quincey could not help, but admire his artistry. Williams might have been an insane serial killer, but his crimson splattered canvas was sublime. De Quincey paints the murders with such vividness and with such specifications in his book that the police wonder how he could possibly known that many details without committing the crimes himself.

”My God, look at how De Quincey praises the murders,” Detective Ryan said. “‘The sublimest that ever were committed. The blaze of his genius absolutely dazzled.’”
“And here.” Constable Becker quoted in amazement: “‘The most superb of the century. Neither ever was, or will be surpassed. Genius. All other murders look pale by the deep crimson of his.’”
“De Quincey sounds insane.”

New ghastly murders eerily similar to the ones committed 43 years ago are turning London into a scared, tinderbox of rioting mobs and the number one suspect is De Quincey.


He’s sixty-nine years old.

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Daguerreotype of De Quincey taken at about the age he would have been for this book.

He’s frail. He keeps correcting people that he is actually just thin not frail, and for most of every day high (can’t get much higher) on laudanum.

“The immediate occasion of this practice was the lowness of wages, which at that time would not allow them to indulge in ale or spirits, and wages rising, it may be thought that this practice would cease; but as I do not readily believe that any man having once tasted the divine luxuries of opium will afterwards descend to the gross and mortal enjoyments of alcohol, I take it for granted,
That those eat now who never ate before;
And those who always ate, now eat the more.”
― Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

A spiritual experience in which one can actually feel the soul lifting and the stress and the burden of life falling from your shoulders. You are released from everything even reality. After De Quincey is at one point in the book brutally assaulted in Coldbath Fields Prison he has to ask the constable that saves him.

”Was it real?”

De Quincey’s daughter Emily turned out to be a very capable character. One that I found myself at many points admiring her pluck. As her father and herself find themselves enmeshed in the search for the killer, a killer that lured her father to London for a purpose, she is almost as scandalous as her father with wearing very inappropriate clothing.

What you wear is called a bloomer, is that correct?
Named after a woman who championed this mode of dress. Unfortunately she’s in a minority. Constable Becker, do you believe it’s immodest for a woman to show the motion of her legs?”

Constable Becker may think so, but he certainly likes the way she walks.

”And how much do you estimate the clothes of a fashionable lady weigh, a woman with a hooped dress?”
“She would wear more garments than I do, certainly. Perhaps ten pounds?”
“Twenty? Surely not more than twenty-five.”
“Thirty-seven pounds.”

It does boggle the mind doesn’t it. Oh but there is more.

”What is your waist size, Constable Becker?”
By now, she couldn’t say anything that fazed him. “Thirty-six.”
“Some idiot decided that the ideal waist size for a woman is eighteen inches. To accomplish that, a rigid corset is required, with tightly secured stays, I refuse to submit to that torture. Add the strangulation at the waist to the thirty-seven pounds of clothing, and it isn’t at all surprising that many women faint.”

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I first imagined Emily in bloomers like this. I was wrong of course too contemporary and too short, but they are cute.

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Now Emily wanted freedom of movement, but she was not ready as yet to show her ankles. Her bloomers were more like the young Victorian lady in this drawing.

Okay so Emily did perk my interest in corsets. I wanted to discover who this “idiot” was, has to be man right? Only a man would inflict such punishment on women for his visual pleasure. Herminie Cordolla was the inventor of the corset. The corset is derived from the french word corsetry which means corps of the dead. Wait a minute that isn’t Herman that is Herminie. The inventor of the corset is a woman. She subjugated her own sex? Well I won’t put all the blame on Miss Herminie Cordolla. Some form of the corset has been around almost as long as women have been putting clothes on. Not that men are off the hook. We do like seeing women’s curves accented.

David Morrell spent two years researching and writing this book. He consulted with Robert Morrison, a biographer of De Quincey, to insure that he did not drift away from the plausible with his main character. He read Victorian novels as well as history books and historical documents from the period to make sure he got what they ate, what they wore, and how they talked down properly. He uses Victorian slang throughout. I wanted to share two of my favorites.

”Good morning, dear ladies,” De Quincey announced. He tipped his shapeless cap. “How is the linen-lifting tribe this morning?”
“Save your foolishness. A shilling, or no Bob-in-the-Betty-Box for you.”

Goodness sakes I do believe those women are ladies of the evening.

Yes David Morrell is the same writer that wrote Rambo and First Blood, but he has reinvented himself for this book. Whether you liked or didn't like his early work this book breaks new ground and I'm sure you will be pleased with the results. I thoroughly enjoyed Morrell’s book about De Quincey. So much so that I will be exploring the Opium-Eater further. Plus Emily pointed out something that Thomas and I have in common.

”It is undignified, but in truth, we need the money. As much as Father is addicted to laudanum, he is addicted to acquiring books. Over the years, no sooner did he cram one cottage with books than he rented another and another.”

Okay I’m not that struck by the bibliophile curse, but I do own several rental properties...just in case.

My Review of The English Opium Eater:a biography of Thomas De Quincey by Robert Morrison

If you would like to see a candid, indepth interview with David Morrell conducted by the owner of the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona click this link. http://new.livestream.com/poisonedpen/DavidMorrell