An Addiction to Fiction

So it’s been a while. I know, I’m a terrible blogger, but hopefully this one makes up for all of the lost time. I took a class this semester called Fiction and Addiction in 18th Century British Literature. It wasn’t my first choice, and I was really dreading taking the class. What could possibly be interesting about British literature from the 1700s? The class turned out to be much more rewarding than I had ever imagined. For the first time since I have been at college, I was in a class that truly showed me how much literature can impact society, and vice versa. I won’t bore you with my life lessons as an English major, but I feel it is my duty as a fiction addict to introduce you to the exhilarating and thought-provoking books we read in this class. This is the order we read them in class, and you can really see how they are all playing off of each other.

Anne Marlowe’s How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to ZThis is a modern text, and it isn’t as dull and formulaic as it may sound. This memoir recounts Marlowe’s short addiction to heroin, but explores it in the form of a dictionary. It is a quick read, and gives fascinating insight into the mind of a person who is truly addicted to a substance, but feels she has perfect control over her use. I had never read an addiction memoir before, and this one is a really good place to start to get your feet wet on the subject.

Daniel Defoe’s Roxana: One thing that makes this novel so interesting is that when it was first published, Defoe was not listed as the author so it was believed to be an autobiography. Why would a man ever want to write as a woman, especially in the 18th century? It follows the life of the “unfortunate” Roxana Susan, and how her life was plagued with bad decisions, rich men, and a lot of sex. Part of the fun of this novel is that there appears to be no true addict in the whole book–unless you consider Roxana to be addicted to herself, or money, or sex….

IMG_0843Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote: This was probably my favorite text. Arabella is a girl whose only education came from medieval romances. When her father dies and she is forced to marry her cousin, it soon becomes clear that Arabella is not well in the head. The romances have changed her perspective on reality and she is convinced that every man she meets is an old lover, a current lover, or a lover to be. This novel begs the question of whether or not fiction can become so addicting that it changes how we view reality. While at times the plot does drag on and on, it is really a great read for anyone who considers themselves addicted to fiction.

Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality and John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education: I grouped these two together because they were the only two non-fiction books we read. As a Foucault virgin (pun intended), I must be honest and say this text was rather difficult. Foucault explores sexuality as a thing in society–and the very fact that it has a history suggests that it hasn’t always been here. It is a very enlightening way of thinking about how social constructs are made and instilled in society, and how it is usually the “abnormal” that appears before the “normal.” Locke’s Education is essentially a manual on how to raise children. Most of the suggestions and ideas are so ridiculous that I read it as satire, though some of the methods do make sense. His section on habit is particularly interesting.

Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda: Ok so I have to be honest here. I only read the first 12 pages of this 400 page monster (I was having a busy week), but I really enjoyed them! The writing style and plot mirrors that of Jane Austen so I’m leaving this book on my To-Read list since I adore anything Austen. It’s the first novel in the list with two openly confessed addicts, and it is very interesting to read after Locke and Foucault. The alcoholic Lord Delacour and the gambling Mr. Vincent highlight different aspects of addiction and it is interesting to see contrasting ideas in one text.

Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of English Opium-Eater: This is by far the best book to read at 2 in the morning. Reading this book under extreme exhaustion really heightens the drug trip affect and I finished the 80 page book truly feeling like I had just gone through a very strange world.  De Quincey, much like Marlowe, chronicles his addiction by sharing the pleasures and the (sort of) pains of opium. Apparently the worst thing about opium is bad dreams, but how believable can an opium addict be? Since it is only 80 pages, you will definitely leave wanting more–and the sequel would probably do the trick though we didn’t read it. This book is probably the closest thing I will ever have to experiencing a high.

So that’s it. I know it’s a long post, but this is where my mind has been the last month. If you’re looking for summer reads, I highly encourage you to take a trip (pun intended…again) and explore this world of addiction. You may finish the books and discover that you too are addicted to fiction.