Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

English, PhD

Program

School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Marc Redfield

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jolene Zigarovich

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Sumangala Bhattacharya

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Gayle Greene

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2011 Karen Beth Strovas

Abstract

Victorian inquisitiveness about sleep and dysfunctions of sleep is exemplified in novels published during the fifty-year period from Jane Eyre (1847) to Dracula (1897). This inquisitiveness foreshadows modern medical sleep science and immerses the reading public in a body of popular literature that subverts the concept of "normal" sleep. My dissertation explores the ways in which Victorian fiction brings physiological and psychological female concerns to the fore through the plot devices of sleep and sleeplessness. I examine the Victorians' diverse interpretations of illness, physical and sexual vulnerability, moral insanity, criminality, and anxiety to determine the thematic and narratological ways in which these issues are linked to sleeping and waking states. Drawing on feminist literary criticism, cultural historicism, and medical insight from the early nineteenth-century to the present, I argue that Charlotte Brontë, Wilkie Collins, and Bram Stoker use sleep and wakefulness as vehicles to navigate gendered fluctuations of power and loss. Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, and Dracula each present sleep as a gendered space in which power is contested. I argue that sleeplessness and restlessness are the methods women adopt, either on purpose or unintentionally, to realize self-sufficiency and protect themselves from patriarchal jurisdiction and other social restrictions on women. Women must reject their instinctual desires for a certain amount of sleep so that they can maintain agency and authority over their bodies and narratives. Implicit in the novels is the idea that deep sleep is a mechanism for achieving health and moral strength of character. However, explicitly and without apology, the novels use the trope of sleep for women as a violent instrument of loss, infection, powerlessness, and weakness. The cultural and medical artifacts of the time suggest that deep, indulgent sleep is the only way to achieve or maintain health. Yet Victorian authors write sleep as a sure road to incapacitation and subjugation. Brontë, Collins, and Stoker demonstrate that a woman's mind is only as healthy as her sleep, while her body is always safer awake.

DOI

10.5642/cguetd/44

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