19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, No 12 (2011)

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The Museum as 'Dream Space': Psychology and Aesthetic Response in George Eliot’s Middlemarch

Victoria Mills


This essay explores the relationship between aesthetics and psychology through the idea of the museum as a ‘dream space’ in George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It begins with a discussion of Charles Dickens’s Amy Dorrit and Hilda in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, two women who, like Dorothea Brooke, dream their way around Italian museums and the fragment-rich spaces of Rome. Pregnant moments of female subjectivity take place in museum spaces characterised by their oneiric qualities. Such fictional depictions extend Sheldon Annis’s notion of the museum as ‘dream space’, taking account of a variety of sleep states associated with the museum that include mesmeric trance and double consciousness. Middlemarch, in particular, draws on contemporary psychological accounts of such phenomena developed by John Addington Symonds, Enaeas Sweetland Dallas and Frances Power Cobbe. Eliot’s depiction of Dorothea’s responses to the museum of Rome engages with theories of consciousness and debates about the nature of spontaneous, individual will. In Middlemarch the creative potential of the unconscious mind is explored through the idea of the museum as a dream space.

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