“Not the opium-eater, but the opium, is the true hero of the tale,” wrote Thomas De Quincey in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, one of many books that explore the Victorians’ fascination with drug use.

The links between the 19th century literary world and opiates can be seen in the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Shelley, and William Wordsworth, in which the drugs are taken for medicinal and recreational reasons alike. In this panel chaired by John Mitchinson, and featuring authors Sharon Ruston and Stephen Carver, we will explore how these celebrated writers lived and worked in a world steeped in laudanum.

About The Host

John Mitchinson

John Mitchinson is the head of research for British television panel game QI. He is co-writer of the QI series of books with the show’s creator John Lloyd. He has also written 1,411 Quite Interesting Facts to Knock You Sideways with John Lloyd and James Harkin. He is cofounder of Unbound, and presents Unbound’s literature podcast Backlisted.

About The Authors

Sharon Ruston

Sharon Ruston taught at Salford University, Keele University, and the University of Wales, Bangor, previous to her appointment in 2013 as Chair of Romanticism at Lancaster University. She has published Shelley and Vitality (2005), Romanticism: An Introduction (2007), Creating Romanticism: Case Studies in the Science, Literature and Medicine of the 1790s (2013), and co-edited the four-volume edition of Sir Humphry Davy’s Collected Letters for Oxford University Press (2020). She is currently leading an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project to transcribe all of Davy’s notebooks.