Sleep deprived and ultramodern: How novels turned dream girls into insomniacs

Lois Cucullu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Following Bourdieu's lead in The Logic of Practice that "[t]he body believes in what it plays at," this essay argues that novels help condition women to the new temporality of the late modern period, that of modern sleeplessness and overblown desire. In the same fin de siècle decade in which an emergent fashion industry summons women to abandon the corset in public and enter the fantasy worlds of modern dress designs that accentuate the body and stimulate its desires, so too are novelists issuing similar summons. Such sensational novels as Bram Stoker's Dracula and George du Maurier's Trilby that so enthralled readers make women's sexual awakening dependent on their falling into dream states that override consciousness to highlight the body and unleash its innate desires. Revolving around depraved seductions, these somnambulist thrillers help orchestrate modern women's sexual turn at the close of the nineteenth century via corsetless ingenues somnambulating alone in public after dark. These popular fictions converge with material culture in the dress reforms of fashion designers to advance women's increased mobility and sexual license - but at a cost. Together they connect women to the ongoing commodification of sleep that we associate with the restless somatology of the metropolitan indigene of late modernity. That modern restlessness and unfettered desire become internalized in succeeding decades is nowhere more categorically rendered than in the restless soliloquy with its manic display of female desire delivered at the conclusion of James Joyce's Ulysses by a sleepless Molly Bloom.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-310
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2009


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