Inspired by Murder

On Murder Considered As One of the Fine Arts    Guilty Things A Life of Thomas De Quincey

This review was written by Colin Dickey for New Republic, November 2, 2016:

“Murder, in ordinary cases, where the sympathy is wholly directed to the case of the murdered person,” (De Quincey) reasons, “is an incident of coarse and vulgar horror; and for this reason that it flings the interest exclusively upon the natural but ignoble instinct by which we cleave to life.” This attitude to primal panic would never “suit the purposes of the poet.” What, then, must a poet do to elevate such a scene to high art? The only option: “He must throw the interest on the murderer.” Since 1823, this has become commonplace; from The Godfather to Silence of the Lambs to Breaking Bad, it’s become the default position of any serious drama to include the perspective of the murderer. Like it or not, our imaginative lives now reside in De Quincey’s dreamworld.

Fittingly, Frances Wilson’s new biography of De Quincey, Guilty Thing, begins not with his birth or his lineage, but with a murder: In the early hours of December 8, 1811, shopkeeper Thomas Marr, his wife and infant child, and his apprentice were all found dead, their throats slit and their heads bashed in. With no real suspects, the case fascinated everyone in England, but none more so than Thomas De Quincey himself. The Ratcliffe Highway murders, as they became known, inspired in De Quincey a “profound reverie,” according to his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and would occupy his mind and his writings for decades to come. The murders, De Quincey would later write, “had an ill effect, by making the connoisseur in murder very fastidious in his taste, and dissatisfied by anything that has been since done in that line. All other murders look pale,” he concluded, by the “deep crimson” of the Ratcliffe Highway murders.

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Suspiria: The De Quincey Connection

I’ve written before about my appreciation of Thomas De Quincey.

What I didn’t know until recently is that De Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis (a Latin phrase meaning “sighs from the depths”) was the inspiration for Dario Argento‘s  “Three Mothers” film trilogy, Suspiria (1977), Inferno (1980), and Mother of Tears (2007).

Suspiria de Profundis originally appeared in installments in Blackwood’s Magazine during the Spring and Summer of 1845. Wikipedia tells us that De Quincey “altered its content and added material when he included it in his collected works (1854 and after); and portions of the whole were not published until the first volume of his Posthumous Works in 1891.”

In a June 7, 2008 review on Cinefantastique, Steve Biodrowski says, “Suspiria de Profundis is a further elaboration on the theme of Confessions (of An English Opium Easter). Rather than educating the public on the details of opium use (how many drops are necessary to achieve relief from pain, how difficult it is to ween oneself from the habit), De Quincey instead focuses on spiritual effects, offering up a series of mystical visions with all the conviction of a Biblical prophet.”

Read the entire review on CINEFANTASTIQUE