`Life for De Quincey was either angels ascending on vaults of cloud or vagrants shivering on the city streets.'
Thomas De Quincey - opium-eater, celebrity journalist, and professional doppelganger - is embedded in our culture. Modelling his character on Coleridge and his sensibility on Wordsworth, De Quincey took over the poet's former cottage in Grasmere and turned it into an opium den. Here, increasingly detached from the world, he nurtured his growing hatred of his former idols and his obsession with murder as one of the fine arts.
De Quincey may never have felt the equal of the giants of the Romantic Literature he so worshipped but the writing style he pioneered - scripted and sculptured emotional memoir - was to inspire generations of writers: Dickens, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf. James Joyce knew whole pages of his work off by heart and he was arguably the father of what we now call psychogeography.
This spectacular biography, the produce of meticulous scholarship and beautifully supple prose, tells the riches-to-rags story of a figure of dazzling complexity and dazzling originality, whose rackety life was lived on the run, and both brings De Quincey and his martyred but wild soul triumphantly to life and firmly establishes Frances Wilson in the front rank of contemporary biographers.
Frances Wilson is a critic, journalist and the author of four works of non-fiction, Literary Seductions, The Courtesan's Revenge, The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, which won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in 2009, and How To Survive the Titanic; or The Sinking of J Bruce Ismay, winner of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for historical biography in 2012. She lives in London with her daughter.