More laudanum, Vicar? Leicester academic speaks at symposium on Victorian drugs

Posted by mjs76 at Feb 10, 2011 04:55 PM |
Dr Julian North is among the speakers at a prestigious symposium in London this weekend on drugs and drug abuse. But she’s not a sociologist and she’s not a doctor; Dr North is a Senior Lecturer in our School of English and a member of our Victorian Studies Centre. The event, organised by the Wellcome Collection, is called High Society: Drugs in Victorian Britain.
More laudanum, Vicar? Leicester academic speaks at symposium on Victorian drugs

Frontispiece by Richard Gutschmidt from a 1902 German edition of The Sign of Four

The popular image of 19th century Britain is one of polite, formal, well-to-do middle- and upper-class families, all starched collars and crinoline dresses with anti-maccasars on the furniture and blushes-sparing drapes to hide suggestive piano legs. In fact, Victorian society was awash with mind-altering pharmaceuticals and consciousness expanding herbs, all of them completely legal. You could buy opium over the counter.

Dr North will present on ‘Dreams and Nightmares: Drugs in Victorian Literature’, examining depictions of drugs in the works of perennially popular authors such as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson – what is The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde if not a study in drug addiction? – and even Charlotte Bronte. Her particular expertise in the life and work of Thomas de Quincey marks Dr North out as an authority on the subject; his best-known work was, of course, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

High Society: Drugs in Victorian Britain takes place this Friday and Saturday (11-12 February 2011), starting with a drinks reception and magic lantern show to get the delegates and speakers in a suitably relaxed vibe, man. The event ties in with the High Society exhibition at the Wellcome Collection which runs until 27 February and there is a two-page feature in today’s (Thursday’s) Times on the subject. We can’t link to it because of the paper’s paywall but apparently it's on pages 13 and 14 of the Arts section.

Dr North’s talk will also include probably the most famous drug addict in Victorian literature: the consulting detective resident at 221b Baker Street whose sharp mind relied on regular intravenous infusions of cocaine in a ‘seven-per-cent solution’:

Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantelpiece, and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle and rolled back his left shirtcuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist, all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks. Finally, he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined armchair with a long sigh of satisfaction.
Opening paragraph of The Sign of Four

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