Date of Award
Master of Arts
Sean C. Grass
Critics of Wilkie Collins asserted that he should have written about lighter, happier topics rather than focusing on such serious subjects. Entirely disregarding these opinions, Collins delved into the use of opium in his novels Armadale and The Moonstone. By portraying characters who suffer from both physical ailments and chemical dependency on opium (particularly in the form of laudanum drops), Collins explores the subject of drug addiction. Though primarily functioning as a pain reliever and sleep aid, opium has secondary effects that are revealed through its prominent use in Collins novels.
In Armadale, Collins introduces readers to the dynamic figure Lydia Gwilt. The antagonist of the novel, Lydia ultimately reveals herself to be a sympathetic character despite the negative stigma directed toward female addicts. Lydia indulges in a mixture of alcohol and opium on a nightly basis and writes in her diary and to her mentor. While Lydia exemplifies the manipulative, amoral qualities that readers expected from a female addict, she also proves herself to be more than manipulative and amoral. By allowing readers to see life from Lydia’s perspective, granting them access to her private thoughts and feelings, Collins interests readers in a character whom they should find deplorable. Eventually, Lydia proves her moral character despite her substance dependency.
In The Moonstone, Collins illuminates the social stigma surrounding drug addiction and the effects that the negative connotation had on opium habituates. Predating the disease model of addiction, the connotation suggests that those who succumb to drug addiction are morally fallible rather than ill. The stigma influences the addicts of Collins’s novel as they struggle to keep their dependency private. Ultimately, Collins reveals the necessity of opium. Without another form of pain relief, his characters must indulge in an addictive substance.
Joshua John Prindle
Prindle, Joshua John, "Morality and Medicine: Opium and Addiction in Wilkie Collins’s Armadale and The Moonstone" (2017). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 15398.