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Sleeping Beauties in Victorian Britain

Cultural, Literary and Artistic Explorations of a Myth


Edited By Beatrice Laurent

Artists, scientists and the wider public of the Victorian era all seem to have shared a common interest in the myth of the Briar Rose and its contemporary implications, from the Pre-Raphaelites and late Victorian aesthetes to the fascinated crowds who visited Ellen Sadler, the real-life ‘Sleeping Maid’ who is reported to have slept from 1871 to 1880.
The figure of the beautiful reclining female sleeper is a recurring theme in the Victorian imagination, invoking visual, literary and erotic connotations that contribute to a complex range of readings involving aesthetics, gender definitions and contemporary medical opinion. This book compiles and examines a corpus of Sleeping Beauties drawn from Victorian medical reports, literature and the arts and explores the significance of the enduring revival of the myth.
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Julia Margaret Cameron’s Sleeping Beauties


When he received Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs, Victor Hugo exclaimed:

How can I thank you enough madame for this new kindness? You overwhelm me. All of them are beautiful, not one of the photographs but is in itself a masterpiece. No one has ever captured the rays of the sun and used them as you have; I throw myself at your feet.1

What was it that moved Victor Hugo so much, was it just a question of sunrays? Why did he consider the photographs as masterpieces? Was it because Julia Margaret Cameron understood that photography was not just a scientific activity but a ‘mortal yet divine art’,2 as she put it?

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