A squalid opium den in a London back alley drew high society through the shadowy Victorian night.
Scandalous rumors of half-clothed women and good opium drew good Victorian society to Chi Ki’s opium den. To here Alison escapes, sneaking out every night after her drunken, abusive husband sleeps, fleeing into the arms of other men, and into a trap that has been laid. What happens when her fate is tied to an author, who coldly manipulates lives to stimulate his art, a self-absorbed, playboy criminal, and an apparently good woman who secretly loathes her?
Roberto paused thoughtfully. Did you ever see the great work of art by Piranesi?
It is called “Carceri d’Invenzione,” which means “Imaginary Prisons.” The work reminded Coleridge of
the dreaming mind on opium, and DeQuincey wrote about it too. So vividly did Coleridge describe the
etching, that DeQuincey knew of it without having seen it, for it is the quintessential opium dream world, the doom that awaits the opium addict.
The figures wander in a vaulted room with great staircases that cross back and forth, with the end nowhere in sight, solitarily wandering through some yet higher vault and some new staircase. There is no way out. Even every arch, which would seem to promise an exit, leads to yet another arch. The
space is limitless, but the feeling is claustrophobic. Though the figures are solitary and do not mingle in groups, they are not alone.
They are watched. They have invisible enemies. They are self-absorbed and complacent, and do not know the danger in which they may be. They could not warn each other anyway, for opium has made them scattered and solitary, with the human inclination to empathy vanished. It is quite a powerful work of art. You must see it. Oftentimes, I feel like I am stuck in this same labyrinth. I am fascinated and horrified by it all at once.”
He grew thoughtful as he studied her face….
Whatever relief Agatha had felt a moment ago slid away. She shivered with a sense of foreboding. Roberto seemed entranced by this prison, amazed at the secret insular world of it, he, to whom
she had just given herself so freely. He had just unselfishly warned her to stay away from it, yet a piece of her was already in his prison.