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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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This book contains a series of ten papers that explore the relationships between medical assumptions, literary renderings and pictorial presentations of a single theme: the sleeping woman in Victorian Britain. Most result from a fruitful seminar on that topic that was held at the European Society for the Study of English conference in Istanbul in September 2012. Using an interdisciplinary approach, this two-day event brought together academics specializing in Victorian studies but with varied research interests ranging from literature and the arts to cultural history.

A web search of Victorian periodicals with the keywords ‘Sleeping Beauty’ through the six decades 1840 to 1900 returns an impressively high, although irregular, number of entries, the lowest being five for 1845, the highest 424 for 1891. Although some of these entries come from the sport section, with news concerning the racehorse called Sleeping Beauty, most belong to the news or entertainment categories and advertise or report various performances of cantatas, pantomimes, musicals or extravaganzas. Occasional papers deal with paintings by Daniel Maclise or Edward Burne-Jones. The web survey shows a progression in the popularity of the legend from an average of 55 entries per year in the mid-Victorian period, a sharp rise to 98 entries per year in the 1870s, a towering average of 163 throughout the 1880s and a modest decline in the last decade of the century with 146 entries on average per year. These results confirm that the mid- and even more the late Victorian public...

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