Cover image for Opium : a portrait of the heavenly demon
Opium : a portrait of the heavenly demon
Hodgson, Barbara, 1955-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
San Francisco, CA : Chronicle Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
152 pages : illustrations (some color), color maps ; 20 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV5816 .H55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



An illustrated history of opium culture follows the path of the drug's creation and consumption and discusses how it fueled the vision of artists, writers, and poets.

Author Notes

Barbara Hodgson is a Vancouver-based writer, photographer, and designer. She is the author of the acclaimed illustrated novels "The Sensualist" and "The Tattooed Map", "Opium", and a collaborator on "Paris Out of Hand", a fictional guidebook to Paris.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Hodgson's magnificently illustrated history of the granddaddy of illicit drugs is masterfully done, very informative. Entertaining, too, which figures, since it is mostly about getting high--the hows, whys, and whose-fault-is-it-anyways. Alternately glorified and condemned for its psychoactive applications, the opium poppy is now the focus of eradication research, lately looking into genetic warfare against it. What inspires such animus from the minions of overweening decency? Opium is "one of the most addictive and debilitating substances on earth," Hodgson writes, and its introduction in the West ushered in a taste for psychic adventure that still irritates prurient prudes. "The focus here," she continues, "is on the wealth of images and literature celebrating or condemning this fabled drug, and on the writers, artists and photographers who have tried to capture the essence of opium's allure." That focus pays off with a delightful little book that may not fit in a D.A.R.E. collection but will be welcome in most others. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

A smoothly guided tour through the history of this often glamorized narcotic, Hodgson's slim volume is handsomely assembled and illustrated with woodcuts, sketches and photographs. It recounts how 19th- and 20th-century writers (among them Baudelaire, Jean Cocteau and Graham Greene) "elevated the status of a muse"; demonstrates "the box-office draw of drugs" in the era of silent film; describes the "opium clippers," sleek Victorian ships designed to transport the drug from India to China; and surveys the multifarious literature of opium-smoking, from firsthand reports of Hong Kong squalor to prurient pulp fiction. Opium was a popular ingredient in all sorts of Victorian and turn-of-the-century medicines. But since most North America opium smokers were Chinese immigrants, the drug provided an occasion for moral panic and anti-immigrant feeling. Far less ambitious and less didactic than Martin Booth's 1998 Opium: A History, Hodgson's volume excels in its plethora of quotes from Dickens, Sax Rohmer and Arthur Symons (represented by a remarkable sonnet), pictures from obscure yet revealing French painters, Chinese photographers and documentation of crusaders and journalists such as P.B. Doesticks, who visited an opium den in New York City's Chinatown and found "a cube of smoke the size of the apartment, about the consistence [sic] of blancmange." (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
The Drowsy Poppyp. 11
Opium and the Eastp. 29
Intoxicating Fumesp. 53
The Writer's Musep. 83
Chinatownsp. 105
Opium Hits the Streetp. 133
Notesp. 141
Bibliographyp. 144
Acknowledgementsp. 148
Indexp. 149