Time According to an Opium-Eater

“Finally, as my despairing resource, on the day I left London, I put into the hands of the only person who (I was sure) must know Ann by sight… If she lived, doubtless we must have been sometimes in search of each other, at the very same moment, through the might labyrinths of London; perhaps even within a few feet of each other,–a barrier no wider, in a London street, often amounting in the end to a separation for eternity!” (page 47)

Confessions of an Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey


Presented here is the conundrum between space and intimacy. De Quincey points out with great frustration how he can be within a few feet of the very person he seeks, but the overcrowded streets are too full. The density of the city does not result in De Quincey feeling more full of civic bustle or like a part of a cohesive body of populace. Instead, he feels isolated within a crowd of hundreds. The separation he feels is quite severe, as seen in his diction that he feels he will end in a “separation for eternity” because there are too many people and too little space for intimate friendships to form.

My professor had an interesting point in class today. In the paraphrased version in my memory, he said that this kind of crashing into each other is what is being critiqued by other writers in 18th century London, too. This new category of social interaction where you can meet one person and never see them ever again because they will be lost among the sea of faces is at play and at odds with the slower, older way of socializing. I can see this type in modern times, even on my school campus. It’s a strange thought to consider: the girl or guy I pass by on Bruinwalk I may never see again even though we attend the same school. The reality that dense populations result in a more difficult time in having intimate friendships seems paradoxical at first, but makes a lot of sense after some thought. At the very least, it is an unforeseen consequence of London modernization.


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