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How did 18th century’s literary women relieve domestic distress? With opiates

It wasn’t just men such as Coleridge and De Quincey who took drugs, study of Mary Robinson and Harriet Martineau reveals

The fantastical poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the scandalous journal of “opium eater” Thomas De Quincey notoriously celebrate the influence of opium. Now, beyond Coleridge’s “caverns measureless to man” and De Quincey’s nightmarish visions, a new academic study is to reveal that many of the female stars of the British literary scene of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were equally dependent on the drug.

“While men like De Quincey and Coleridge were among the first to write openly about opium’s creative effects and so are seen as the originators of the tradition of British drug literature, contemporary women writers tended instead to view it as a comfort, a way of coping with the demands of artistic life,” said Dr Joseph Crawford, a senior lecturer at Exeter University, whose paper is due to be published as part of research titled Psychopharmacology and British Literature.

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