This essay explores the relationship between aesthetics and psychology in mid nineteenth-century Victorian fiction through the idea of the museum as a ‘dream space’. It begins with a discussion of Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit (1855-7) and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1860). These texts depict a variety of sleep states associated with Italian museum spaces and draw on contemporary psychological accounts of mesmeric trance and dreaming. The main body of the essay examines George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-2) and shows how Eliot’s figuring of the museum as a dream space engages with theories of consciousness, debates on the nature of individual will and epistemological questions about the perception of objects. I argue that Eliot’s depiction of Dorothea’s experiences in the museum spaces of Rome draws on mid nineteenth-century psychology to reframe a romantic tradition, which linked somnambulism and aesthetic response. The novel explores the creative potential of the unconscious mind through which Dorothea is able to negotiate the relationship between real and ideal. In Rome, and back at her home in Lowick, she often appears in a dream-state – a state that disturbs and alarms, but which ultimately enables her to connect the idealities of the ancient city with the realities of her own experience.
The relationship between museums, sleep and dreams preoccupied many late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers. A visit to the Dresden Picture Gallery induces a state of ‘delirious’ ‘transport’ in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.1 William Hazlitt describes a dream of the Louvre in which he recalls ‘asking for the old pictures – and not finding them, or finding them changed or faded from what they were’, registering anxiety in the dialectic of absence and presence embodied by the museum.2 John Keats’s Sleep and Poetry (1816) charts a poetic reverie induced by Leigh Hunt’s collection of reproduction paintings and sculptures.3 In Tennyson’s Palace of Art (1832), the museum shifts from a place of transport and delight to a site of terrifying dreams. The ‘lordly pleasure-house’ with its ‘great rooms’ displaying sculptures and paintings is invaded by ‘Uncertain shapes; and unawares/On white-eyed phantasms weeping tears of blood,/And horrible nightmares’.4
In his autobiography Henry James recounts a dream of the Louvre in which he pursues his boyhood self through the long, empty galleries of the museum, ‘cleared for the occasion of its great line of priceless vitrines down the middle’. He describes the dream as ‘the most appalling yet most admirable nightmare of my life’ which ‘stands alone for me as a dream-adventure founded in the deepest, quickest, clearest act of cogitation and comparison, act indeed of life-saving energy, as well as in unutterable fear’. The climax of this nightmare, he continues:
was the sudden pursuit, through an open door, along a huge high saloon, of a just dimly-descried figure that retreated in [terror] before my rush and dash […] out of the room I had a moment before been desperately, and all the more abjectly, defending by the push of my shoulder against hard pressure on lock and bar from the other side. The lucidity, not to say the sublimity, of the crisis had consisted of the great thought that I, in my appalled state, was probably still more appalling than the awful agent, creature or presence, whatever he was, whom I had guessed, in the suddenest wild start from sleep, the sleep within my sleep, to be making for my place of rest.5
In this vision of the Louvre, the museum is constructed as a dream space, a collage of conflicting experience – vivid, surreal, and disorientating. It is a place of adventure and energy, of ‘rush and dash’ but also a place of quiet rest. It plays on the dream-logic of paradox: it invokes both pleasure and terror; it should be full of objects yet is empty; it haunts and is haunted, and it is both sanctuary and prison. It invites scientific-style observation, ‘cogitation and comparison’, along with romantic adventure evoked by reference to the sublime and to the Gothic tropes of imprisonment, ghostliness and the storm.6 The dream becomes a cognitive souvenir of James’s boyhood visit to the Louvre and presents museum experience as paradoxical, confused and contradictory.
In an essay of 1986, the cultural geographer Sheldon Annis discusses the idea of the museum as ‘dream space’, a space of subrational image formation:
As such, the museum is transformed into a container for patterns, shapes, colours and sounds. The visitor moves forward, and against this abstract backdrop appears a changing panorama of suggestive things – things stripped of their primary use and natural context […] The viewer’s mind and eye subrationally seize upon certain objects that jolt memory or recognition and provoke internal associations of fantasy, desire and anxiety.7
Like James’s dream of the Louvre, Annis describes the museum as a site of confusion and disorientation but also of imagination and delight. It is a space in which the ‘mind and eye’ work in tandem, a space in which aesthetic response (to patterns, shapes, colours and sounds) is produced ‘subrationally’, a term that draws attention to questions of volition and suggests the creative power of a divided consciousness. The museum as dream space impacts on both the cognitive and affective realms, provoking memory and recognition but also fantasy, desire and anxiety.
The conflicting emotions and ambiguous responses provoked by museum spaces are also evident in mid nineteenth-century texts that depict female tourists in Italy. Many critics comment on negative experiences in which women feel oppressed, overwhelmed and disconcerted by what they see.8 Yet the museum was also a space of potential liberation for women, a space which allowed them to escape from the domestic sphere, a meeting place for lovers, a place to study for art students. Middle-class women, from the 1860s onwards, took advantage of increased opportunities to engage with museums both at home and abroad.9 Visiting Rome in 1858 with his wife, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne describes the vast number of female artists and copyists living and working in the city. Vernon Lee, looking back at a childhood visit to Rome, records how she was reading The Marble Faun in 1868-69 in the company of sculptresses such as Harriet Hosmer.10 Female art historians, too, were visiting and writing about Italy in increasing numbers and these women began to challenge the idea of Rome as a predominantly masculine space.11 Dickens, Hawthorne and Eliot write women into Victorian discourses of romanticism and art history by exploring female responses to Italy and its museums and in the novels here discussed, pregnant moments of female subjectivity take place in museum spaces defined by their dream-like qualities.
In Little Dorrit, Dickens describes Amy’s dream-state journey through the ‘museum of Italy’ in which she views ruins, objects and art collections. Her experience is characterized by its oneiric elements: ‘her present existence was a dream. All that she saw was new and wonderful but it was not real'.12 Amy records her feelings in letters to Arthur Clennam: ‘Do you know that since the change in our fortunes […] I appear to myself to have dreamed more than before […]?’. She wakes in the morning only to dream again, waking ‘from a dream of her birth place into a whole day’s dream’. She often sits down to ‘muse’ and has ‘fanciful times’ (LD 388). She exists in a state akin to that described by Dickens in Oliver Twist:
Amy’s is a comparable state of heightened reality in which she attempts to relate the stark reality of her former life in the Marshalsea prison to an unfolding vision of Italy, its ruined palaces and art objects. The blending that occurs is similar to that described in contemporary dream theory as Dickens draws on his knowledge of Robert Macnish’s The Philosophy of Sleep (1830).14 Macnish records how dreams are ‘the resuscitation or re-embodiment of thoughts which have formerly, in some shape or other, occupied the mind’. These thoughts tend to ‘become jumbled together incoherently’ and ‘give rise to absurd combinations’.15 In 1851, Dickens wrote a letter to Dr. Thomas Stone in response to Stone’s article, ‘Dreams’, published in Household Words. In this letter, Dickens shows his familiarity with Macnish as he describes a similar phenomenon: ‘My own dreams are usually of twenty years ago. I often blend my present position with them; but very confusedly’.16 In her second letter to Clennam, Amy records the frequency of her dreams and that she ‘dreamed of myself as very young indeed’, the museum spaces of Italy prompting her to blend her current situation with her former life in the way that Dickens and Macnish describe. (LD 462)
a drowsy, heavy state, between sleeping and waking, when you dream more in five minutes with your eyes half open, and yourself half conscious of everything around you, than you would in five nights with your eyes fast closed and your senses wrapt in perfect unconsciousness.13
Ten years earlier, Dickens had shaped his own encounter with Italy by drawing on tropes of dream and sleep and the title of Pictures from Italy conveys an experience mediated by the form of the museum:
Dickens records a sight-seeing journey in terms that resonate with Annis’s concept of the museum as dream space. The passage presents Italy as a museum containing a multitude of objects with the capacity to induce a dream-like state in the mind of the viewer. Its ‘crowds of objects’, once viewed, are experienced, repeatedly, as ‘half-formed dreams’. In this state of tourist reverie, objects change, transform into different things and pass before the viewer like Annis’s ‘changing panorama of suggestive things’. Dickens uses the optical devices of popular entertainment to mediate his experience of the museum of Italy and to construct the museum as a dream space. One section of Pictures is titled ‘A Rapid Diorama’, a description which suggests Dickens’s ability to make objects move as part of a dynamic panorama. In the above extract, his writing apes the function of the magic lantern in which dissolving views fade in and out.
I had been travelling for some days; resting very little in the night, and never in the day. The rapid and unbroken succession of novelties that had passed before me came back like half-formed dreams: and a crowd of objects wandered in the greatest confusion through my mind as I travelled on by a solitary road. At intervals, some one among them would stop, as it were, in its restless flitting to and fro, and enable me to look at it quite steadily, and behold it in full distinctness. After a few moments it would dissolve, like a view in a magic lantern; and while I saw some part of it quite plainly, and some faintly, and some not at all, would show me another of the many places I had lately seen, lingering behind it, and coming through it. This was no sooner visible than, in its turn, it melted into something else.17
The description of Amy’s response to a multitude of Italian objects is couched in similar language:
In this panoramic description, we are presented with a catalogue of sights. Conveyed as lists they add to the sense of Italy ‘as museum’ and link Amy’s experience with the Romantic Grand Tour. The juxtaposition of ‘dirt and poverty’ with other pleasanter sights constructs Italy as dream-like paradox, echoing Dickens’s description of Genoa as ‘a bewildering phantasmagoria with all the inconsistency of a dream and all the pain and pleasure of an extravagant reality’.18
Among the day's unrealities would be roads where the bright red vines were looped and garlanded together on trees for many miles; woods of olives; white villages and towns on hill-sides, lovely without, but frightful in their dirt and poverty within; crosses by the way; deep blue lakes with fairy islands, and clustering boats with awnings of bright colours and sails of beautiful forms; vast piles of building [sic] mouldering to dust. (LD 388)
Dickens’s employment of optical imagery to characterize aesthetic response suggests the multivalent possibilities inherent in the attempt to perceive objects. The use of images of the magic lantern and diorama to describe viewing experience highlights the existence of multiple and changeable visual perspectives, shaped by the interplay between the conscious and unconscious mind. Such multiplicity and variety was also evident in the development of contemporary psychological theories. Indeed, Rick Rylance suggests a correspondence between the ‘organized multiplicity’ emphasized by Victorian optical instruments, such as the kaleidoscope and stereoscope, and what he calls the ‘multivocal’ nature of the development of psychology at mid century.19 The growth in psychological theories from the 1850s onwards opened up a discursive field, which contained intellectuals working across disciplines including literature, medicine, economics and philosophy. As a result, the discipline of psychology did not develop in ‘smooth linear sequences’ but in ‘fertile, multiplex interactions’. Psychology in this period, writes Rylance, was a way for Victorian culture to reflect upon ‘the formation of its own mind as it loosened itself from the traditions of the past’.20 Dickens makes use of the transformative possibilities suggested by contemporary theories of the unconscious mind to depict what was a similar ‘loosening’ process for Amy. Her developing aesthetic response is marked by a desire to distance herself from traditional methods of art appreciation. Amy wonders at Italy, dreams about its objects and resists schooling in the rigid methods of art criticism advocated in contemporary guidebooks.21 Dickens’s interest in emergent, multi-stranded psychological debates allowed him to imagine more varied forms of museum experience.
Dickens’s exploration of the museum’s ability to provoke mesmeric, dazzling, visual experiences suggests a complex relationship between the perceiving mind and the concrete experience of objects. A very different type of museum viewing is imagined in Hard Times (1854). In this earlier novel, Dickens uses the trope of the museum to criticize the utilitarian appropriation of associationism, a school of thought which rejected the existence of innate ideas in favour of a model in which the mind is created through experience.22 The museum spaces described in Hard Times are far from dream-like. Through the depiction of the natural history collections belonging to the Gradgrind children, ‘specimens […] all arranged and labeled’, Dickens questions the tendency to privilege exactness over imaginative reconstruction, facts over fancy. Hard Times also contains a sustained critique of the Marlborough House museum (later to become the South Kensington Museum) and Henry Cole’s mission to inculcate good taste in visitors through a series of object lessons.23 Dickens links the philosophy of the object lesson with dogmatic, associationist doctrines, which emphasized a regimented linking of ideas. In Little Dorrit, he returns to this debate, rejecting the museum as a didactic disseminator of knowledge in favour of the multiple interpretive possibilities inherent in the idea of the museum as an affective space. Such commitment to the depiction of multiple perspectives is also evident in Hawthorne and Eliot’s accounts of the museum as a dream space.
In Hawthorne’s TheMarble Faun the museum spaces of Rome are again used to explore a range of sleep states. The novel begins with a description of the sculpture-gallery of the Capitol museum, after which the reader is directed to the scene that lies outside the galleries, moving beyond the walls of an individual museum into another, greater one: the museum of Rome. We are presented with a catalogue of sites: triumphal arches, modern edifices, churches, the Coliseum and ruins of ‘threefold antiquity’. The eye is then drawn back into the saloon of the Capitol where it once more views the ‘world-famous statues’, one of which is Praxiteles’s Marble Faun. This sculpture inspired the title of the novel and is used by Hawthorne to instigate debates about the nature of aesthetic response. Rome’s ‘changing panorama of suggestive things’ described in this opening passage evokes the museum as ‘dream space’. The museum of Rome has no walls and extends as far as the ‘blue distant mountains’.24 Hawthorne exhibits this museum to us:
Rome is dream-like, engendering ‘a vague sense of ponderous remembrances’ that make ‘individual affairs and interests […] half as real’. Hawthorne’s desire to put the reader into a particular ‘state of feeling’ is suggestive of both the museum and the novel’s mesmeric potential. The use of the term ‘medium’ also draws on the language of mesmerism; Rome has the capacity to hypnotize us, to put us into a trance, and so has Hawthorne’s ‘moon-shiny romance’.25
in the hope of putting the reader into that state of feeling which is experienced oftenest at Rome. It is a vague sense of ponderous remembrances; a perception of such weight and density in a bygone life, of which this spot was the centre, that the present moment is pressed down or crowded out, and our individual affairs and interests are but half as real here as elsewhere. Viewed through this medium, our narrative – into which are woven some airy and insubstantial threads, intermixed with others, twisted out of the commonest stuff of human existence – may seem not widely different from the texture of all our lives. (MF 7-8)
Like Dickens, who watched John Elliotson’s mesmeric experiments performed on the O’Key sisters at University College London in the 1830s, Hawthorne had a strong interest in mesmerism.26 He was introduced to the practice by Sophia, who used it to cure her headaches and his Notebooks record his participation in a seance while staying near Venice in 1858.27 Rome’s mesmeric potential dominates The Marble Faun, which presents various modes of perception based on the idea of the museum as dream space. Hilda, an American artist, experiences Rome through a variety of sleep states. At the start of the novel she appears in a type of mesmeric trance as she acts as a spiritual conduit to the Old Masters whose paintings she copies and sells. The language of Hilda’s earliest mode of artistic appreciation draws on that of mesmeric practice in which women played the role of medium. We are told that ‘the spirits of the Old Masters were hovering over Hilda, guiding her delicate white hand’. As a copyist, Hilda has the power to induce ‘second-sight’ through her ability to commune with artists and aid the rebirth of their work. She is an ‘instrument’, an ‘effective piece of mechanism’, capable of summoning up the ‘spirit of some great departed painter’ and she has a ‘gift’ for discerning excellence in art. (MF 50, 48)
Whereas Amy Dorrit’s dreams help her to make sense of a new post-Marshalsea identity, Hilda’s mesmeric trances are imprisoning, rather than enabling. Hawthorne uses the language of mesmerism to describe a state of enthrallment to the Old Masters. The master-slave bond between male mesmerist and female subject is reflected in Hilda’s relationship with these painters in which she appears passive, a slave to her intuition. In this way, Hawthornes’s exploration of the psychology of art challenges the link between creativity and the unconscious. Hilda possesses the finely tuned faculties that enable unique forms of perception but as slave to the Old Masters she is prevented from contemplating a life devoted to original artistic production.
In Chapter 36 of the novel, however, Hilda witnesses the murder of the model of fellow-artist, Miriam and this experience transforms her aesthetic response. This injection of realism into dream-like Rome ushers in another sleep state, that of dulling aesthetic fatigue. Certain types of Art suddenly become irrelevant and this experience is depicted through tropes of weariness, torpor and in Hilda’s inability to find anything but ‘emptiness’ in the picture galleries of Rome. Hawthorne presents a stand-off between the realist aesthetic of Dutch genre painting and the more idealized representations of religion and mythology favoured by the Italians. Hilda shuns the paintings of Raphael, for example, in favour of those that depict an ‘earthen pipkin or a bunch of herrings by Teniers; a brass kettle, in which you can see your face, by Gerard Douw’ [sic], paintings markedly similar to those Eliot describes and prefers in Adam Bede (1859).28 In The Marble Faun, idealism and realism as aesthetic categories are linked to different philosophies of mind. Hilda’s journey from a model of aesthetic response based on semi-conscious mental activity to one governed by an attention to the solidity of the ‘real’ mirrors her changing preference for the real over the ideal in art.
Psychological categories permeate the Marble Faun and are entwined with debates about the nature of aesthetic response. Hawthorne uses the language of mesmerism, sleep and fatigue to explore ideas about the relationship between mind, body and object. Eliot has similar interests in Middlemarch. Dorothea Brooke’s visit to the museum spaces of Rome chimes with the experiences of Hilda and Amy. She dreams her way around the same galleries and, like her precursors, she struggles to make art relevant to lived experience, to understand her own response to objects, to marry real and ideal. It is in Middlemarch, however, that we find the most sustained analysis of psychological debates in relation to the idea of the museum as a dream space.
George Eliot’s interest in contemporary psychology is well known and documented.29 Like her predecessors, Eliot was intrigued by mesmerism. In 1844, she volunteered to be mesmerized by W.B. Hodgson, Principal of the Liverpool Mechanics Institute (she would have known Wilkie Collins’s public letters to George Henry Lewes on the subject that appeared in the Leader in 1852).30 In 1851, William Gregory, Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh University (whose research was also known to Eliot), published a translation of Karl von Reichenbach’s work on magnetism.31 Reichenbach carried out a number of experiments, largely on women, in which he tested their sensitivity to crystalline substances, including jewels such as diamonds. Many of the patients were classified as sensitive types, ranging from the diseased to somnambulists. Others, however, were strong in body but had a capacity for excitability. For example, Mlle Reichel was described as a ‘strong and healthy-looking young woman’, but highly susceptible to the powers of crystals.32 Other patients reported sensations of cold and warmth, the appearance of bright lights, even flames, emitting from the crystals. In his own work, Gregory considered these experiments in relation to mesmerism and discussed the similarity of these sensations to those experienced by mesmeric subjects.33
Dorothea’s reaction to her mother’s jewels in Chapter One of Middlemarch indicates the potential of objects to induce a state of altered consciousness. Dorothea is captivated by the jewel collection left to her and Celia by their mother. She gazes at the ‘bright gleam’ they emit, ‘under a new current of feeling, as sudden as the gleam’: ‘“How very beautiful these gems are!”, she remarks, “It is strange how deeply colours seem to penetrate one, like scents”’.34 The ‘sudden’ ‘new current of feeling’ is suggestive of the power of mesmerism and the mesmeric potential of jewel objects. The jewels have the power to induce a trance-like state, foreshadowing the strong hold that objects exert on Dorothea during her visit to Rome. In this passage, Eliot draws on the language of contemporary psychology. A number of critics, most recently Jill Matus, have noted how Eliot’s figuring of strong emotion as a jolt of electricity ‘gestures towards the mid-nineteenth century scientific contexts in which nerve force was increasingly understood in electrical terms’.35 Mid-century psychologists Alexander Bain and William Carpenter, for example, use electrical imagery to highlight the power of the unconscious mind.36 In this episode, the use of the word ‘current’ suggests that Dorothea’s viewing of the jewels has induced a shock that triggers her aesthetic response, a response in which feelings of pleasure battle it out with a consciously expressed wish to renounce such trinkets. Through the depiction of Dorothea’s reaction to the jewel collection, Eliot asks whether or not it is possible to think and reason in a state of transformed consciousness.
The enabling potential of the unconscious was explored by a number of contemporary theorists, notably Eneas Sweetland Dallas, a friend and reviewer of Eliot, whose book The Gay Science (1866) developed an aesthetic theory (a ‘science of the laws of pleasure’) based on psychological principles.37 Dallas came up with the concept of the ‘hidden soul’ to describe the vital connection between the conscious and unconscious mind. Dallas describes the human soul as double, ‘or at least leading a double life’ to characterize the interplay between consciousness and the unconscious. 38 Dallas’s language suggests a link with debates on ‘double consciousness’, a phenomenon that plays a role in the figuring of the museum as dream space in Middlemarch. Images of dreams and sleep appear in Eliot’s journal entries that document her trip to Italy with Lewes in the early 1860s. As they crossed the Alps, Eliot records, ‘I gave myself up to as many naps as chose to take possession of me’, and she sleeps and wakes a number of times before their arrival.39 Eliot’s language draws on a romantic culture of somnolence in which dream states were heightened states of awareness for the perception of objects. But Eliot also recalls her Italian journey with a passage that draws on contemporary psychological language associated with sleep and dreaming. This language of ‘double consciousness’ is explicitly linked to her own museum-going experiences:
The term ‘double consciousness’ was a slippery, semi-scientific term with a range of meanings relating to contemporary theories of the mind. Sir Henry Holland, a medic with a keen interest in psychology (and Eliot’s doctor), linked the condition to disease or injury of the brain as part of his work on the brain’s organic structure. Macnish discusses the term in relation to the case of Mary Reynolds who exhibited a double personality after fits of somnolency. William Gregory used the term to describe the state of altered consciousness induced by magnetic sleep and John Addington Symonds MD, author of Sleep and Dreams (1851), saw it as an associative disorder linked to the workings of memory.41
One great deduction to me from the delight of seeing world-famous objects is the frequent double consciousness which tells me that I am not enjoying the actual vision enough, and that when higher enjoyment comes with the reproduction of the scene in my imagination I shall have lost some of the details, which impress me too feebly in the present because the faculties are not wrought up to energetic action.40 (my italics)
Eliot uses the term ‘double consciousness’ to draw attention to the ‘double life’ of world famous sites and objects.42 For Eliot, imaginary Rome is more enjoyable than the real thing. She projects forward to the time when she will reproduce Roman scenes in her imagination, that is, when she will represent them through language, manipulating the common trope in which the reality of Rome fails to live up to one’s dreams of the city: Rome visited is always Rome revisited. This process is suggested in Lewes’s Problems of Life and Mind (1872-9) where he argues that the conscious mind is ‘not a passive recipient of external impressions, but an active co-operant […] the sensitive subject is no tabula rasa: it is not a blank sheet of paper, but a palimpsest’.43 The term palimpsest is particularly apt for thinking about the layers of Rome’s past and the accumulation of experiences that are evoked through responses to the city.
The ‘double-consciousness’ through which Rome is perceived suggests the disconcerting power of an imagination that insists on a preference for the unconsciously conceived ideal over the real. Sigmund Freud was later to link the idea of the double life of Rome to the concept of the dream. In The Interpretation of Dreams he writes about a series of Roman dreams ‘based on the longing to go to Rome’. In the first, his view of Rome, ‘modelled after a well-known engraving’, pays homage to the many representations of Rome that take hold of the imagination in place of the real thing. In the third dream, he tries to visualize a city ‘never seen in my waking life’.44 Freud’s accounts show a continuing fascination with the idea of places that exist in the dream spaces of the mind, an idea which Eliot explored in The Lifted Veil (1859) where Latimer has a dream vision of Prague, a city he had never actually visited.45
Eliot develops these ideas in her account of Dorothea’s experience in the Vatican Museum during her honeymoon visit to Rome. This can be read alongside Symonds’s Sleep and Dreams, which presents a theory of double consciousness. In this state, a person ‘sees, hears, walks, has, in fact, the ordinary attributes of the waking state, and yet is not awake’.46 Like Eliot who complains in her journals about the wearisome cataloguing system of its museums, Dorothea experiences aesthetic fatigue in Rome. Following an argument with Casaubon (who exists in a permanent state of intellectual drowsiness) she enters the Vatican museum ‘out of mere listlessness to what was around her’. This fatigue produces a trance-like state. She stands next to the statue of Ariadne but is ‘not looking at the sculpture, probably not thinking of it: her large eyes were fixed dreamily on a streak of sunlight which fell across the floor’, an image, which, we are later told ‘she did not really see’ (M 190; 177, my italics).47 Dorothea is in a kind of reverie, a liminal state between waking and sleeping akin to double consciousness and a state that mirrors that of the statue itself. Dorothea stands with her cheek resting on her hand, her pose similar to the sleeping Ariadne who lies with her hand resting on her cheek, but whose raised arm, however, suggests she cannot be in full sleep. It has been suggested that Dorothea’s gallery experience echoes the story of Ariadne’s abandonment by Theseus and that Dorothea’s sleep state, like that of Ariadne on the island of Naxos, represents ‘a transitional moment in the narrative, marking her abandonment by one lover and rescue by another’, referring to a passive Dorothea’s sexual ‘awakening’ by Will Ladislaw.48 The museum does indeed function as a site of desire in Middlemarch but Dorothea’s dream states are more involved than such a sleeping beauty myth suggests.
Dorothea’s dreaming awake in the Vatican is part of an aesthetic experience in which the conscious and unconscious mind engage in continuous dialogue. Rome and its collections comprise a ‘dream space’ for Dorothea. Rome’s ‘stupendous fragmentariness heightened the dream-like strangeness of her bridal life’ while Roman objects:
at first jarred her as with an electric shock, and then urged themselves on her with that ache belonging to a glut of confused ideas which check the flow of emotion. Forms both pale and glowing took possession of her young sense, and fixed themselves in her memory even when she was not thinking of them, preparing strange associations which remained through her after-years. Our moods are apt to bring with them images which succeed each other like the magic-lantern pictures of a doze. (M 181-2)
Rome is disjointed, disorderly, and disorientating. As in the ‘dream space’ of the museum described by Annis, the city presents a panorama of sights, images which, when later recalled, ‘succeed each other like the magic lantern pictures of a doze’. Eliot, like Dickens, uses images of optical technology to highlight the oneiric qualities of Dorothea’s experience. Dorothea is jolted, ‘jarred [...] with an electric shock’ as she experiences Rome in a state that alternates between sleep and wakefulness, the language drawing once again on contemporary ideas about the relationship between nerves, emotion and the unconscious. Her experience has the visual qualities of a dream, fragmentariness, confusion, strangeness, which echo the fragmented and incoherent nature of Rome as a city of ruins.
Dorothea thus experiences Rome in a state of double-consciousness. Images of the city imprint on her memory and return to her through a process of unconscious recall. In later years, ‘even when she was not thinking of them’, Roman scenes reappear. Dallas describes a process in which ‘Looks and tones come back upon us with a strange vividness from the far past’, an idea suggestively echoed by the striking image of St Peter’s with its ‘huge bronze canopy’ and ‘red drapery […] spreading itself everywhere like a disease of the retina’ which Dorothea sees at constant intervals in the years following her visit (M, 176).Dorothea’s initial experience of Rome is dream-like but jarring. There is power in the strength of her response that is potentially useful, but she is unable to harness it. Rome’s fragments, its ‘gigantic broken revelations’, mirror Dorothea’s experience of a disintegrating self, drawing attention to the contradictory impulses of the conscious and unconscious mind. Amidst the accumulating anguish of her experience as a wife, a wider anxiety is registered: if the unconscious has power, it challenges the notion of spontaneous will. We have no firm control over dreams, trances, or reverie. Might then these states lead to a diminished agency?
Despite the disconcerting and uncomfortable nature of these experiences, Roman reveries have creative potential for Dorothea and her dream-adventures in the city’s museum spaces challenge the argument that she is ‘antimuseal’.49 Through her disjointed and fragmentary experience of the disjointed and fragmentary city she is presented with a metonymical challenge in which she is compelled to assemble the fragments of her experience into a coherent whole. This is the kind of process that takes place in and following a dream. Dallas uses images of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ to describe the traffic between the conscious and unconscious mind. In Rome, Dorothea is unable to ‘give a history of the lights and shadows’ but on her return to Lowick, she utilizes her experience of the city to make sense of her new life.
When Dorothea goes back to Lowick, the dream space of the Vatican museum is recreated in the blue-green boudoir. The domestic interior was a space in which Victorian women were able to construct their own collections. Dorothea doesn’t select the objects for her bedroom but she infuses them with new meanings in a move that suggests Eliot’s belief in a close bond between ideas and things and in ‘intentional’ objects that are produced by the workings of the human mind.50 In a review of Otto Friedrich Gruppe's book The Past and Future of German Philosophy (1855), Eliot talks approvingly about abandoning metaphysics and systems of thought that sever ideas from things. Summarising Gruppe, she advocates a philosophical approach which pays attention to ‘cases in which a new judgement or perception occurs, and is embodied in language, [and] to the mental process which takes place when a discovery in natural science is made and is expressed in words…’.51 For Eliot, objects, perception and language constitute each other and for Dorothea, reverie is the ideal condition in which to experience intentional objects.52
At Lowick, Dorothea’s past experience of the museum of Rome is harnessed to the creative potential of the unconscious mind through a process of mental collection-making. Her life as a new bride is described as ‘a dream [of] which the dreamer begins to suspect’ and her gradual awakening to new awareness is figured through the description of the boudoir in which inanimate objects come to life (M 257). Her response to these objects corresponds to the nightmarish effects of double consciousness described by Symonds:
Having been ‘jarred’ by Rome, Dorothea is similarly ‘jangled out of tune’ on her return to Lowick. In the dream space of her boudoir, she struggles to emerge from a ‘nightmare in which every object was withering and shrinking away from her’. The boudoir, once a source of delight for Dorothea, is ‘all changed’ to her:
But a man53 may awake up to the outward world, and that world is all changed to him. His eyes are open, and his ears catch every sound, and he can feel and handle. But, alas! how delicate and fragile a thing is perception! All has gone wrong. He is awake, and looks around his chamber in which he has every day, for years, hailed the morning sunshine. It has once more lighted up his household gods; […] but all is now jarred and “jangled out of tune.” He looks out on a new world projected from his own inner being. By a melancholy power, a fatal gift, of appropriating and assimilating the real objects perceived by his senses, he takes possession of them, nay, disembodies them, and fuses them into his imaginary creation.54
Like Symonds’s example, the ‘familiar faces’ of Dorothea’s ‘household gods’ have changed. Eliot, too, suggests that these changes are projections from Dorothea’s unconscious as nothing in the room ‘had been outwardly altered’, but the objects come alive as Dorothea contemplates them in the light of her recent experiences, connecting past and present.
the very furniture in the room seemed to have shrunk since she saw it before: the stag in the tapestry looked more like a ghost in his blue-green world; the volumes of polite literature in the bookcase looked more like immovable imitations of books. (M 258; 256)
Symonds writes that in double consciousness ‘there may be achievements of memory and the other mental faculties not attained to in the waking condition’.55 Dorothea’s trance in the blue-green boudoir enhances her powers of interpretation. She gazes at the miniature of Casaubon’s aunt and ‘could fancy that it was alive now’ as it begins to resemble Will Ladislaw.56 The stag in the tapestry haunts her as a further reference to this young man, himself prone to dreaming as well as being ‘miscellaneous and bricabrac’, a collection of parts that need to be made whole (M 258). Both blue boudoir and Vatican museum become dream spaces of interpretive possibility that are linked to desire. In Middlemarch, the desire for interpretive and romantic completion is reflected in Dorothea’s creation of an imaginary gallery of objects and images, of ‘parts’ that are linked to Will, the ‘whole’ that she subconsciously desires.57 Through this process, Dorothea begins to correct earlier metonymical mistakes in which she mistook ‘parts’ of Casaubon in her construction of a greater whole that saw him as the guarantor of her future happiness.58 The dream space of the boudoir becomes a vehicle for wish fulfilment, linking dreams with the expression of longing.
Both collecting and romance are linked to longing, and both share what Jonah Siegel describes as an ‘inability to arrive at a prized but ever-deferred goal’.59 The haunting qualities of such longing are reflected in the boudoir/museum as a ‘dream space’ whose ghostly absent presences also function as facilitators of memory, linking the museum experience to the language of the supernatural. Dallas describes ‘a mental existence within us […] a secret flow of thought which is not less energetic than the conscious flow, an absent mind which haunts us like a ghost or a dream’.60 The same suggestion of haunting, and the potency of unconsciously evoked ghosts and apparitions, is explored by Frances Power Cobbe in her account of ‘unconscious cerebration’:
Cobbe’s essay on ‘Unconscious Cerebration’ was published in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1870. Eliot owned a copy of Cobbe’s pamphlet Dreams as Illustrations of Unconscious Cerebration written five months later.62 In the later essay, Cobbe focuses particularly on dreams. Ideas about the supernatural were central to debates about the nature of dreams. Holland, Lewes and Symonds all tried to refute ideas about the supernatural origins of dreams but, as Nicola Bown suggests, ‘dreams resemble the supernatural world, even if they are not part of it’.63 The ghostly stag that appears to emerge from the tapestry in the blue-green boudoir at Lowick draws attention to these ongoing debates, linking the mesmeric potential of objects to the workings of memory. Dorothea’s boudoir becomes a repository for ‘those memories of an inward life’ in the manner of an unconscious cerebration which allows ‘access to the entire treasury of memory, to the stores of facts, words, and transient impressions accumulated during our whole lives, and to which in our ordinary consciousness we have no means of approach’.64 The boudoir becomes a museum of haunting memories for Dorothea and her interaction with its objects brings her to new forms of understanding.65
An Apparition is to the optical sense what such a Voice as I have spoken of above is to the hearing. At a certain point of intensity the latent idea in the unconscious brain reveals itself and produces an impression on the sensory; sometimes affecting one sense, sometimes another.61
The coincidence of haunting, dreams, memories and the museum also signals the way in which Eliot deposits her own memories of reading in an example of what Siegel (in a book aptly titled The Haunted Museum) dubs ‘the gesture back’.66. In Middlemarch, the ‘gesture back’ is to Sir Walter Scott’s 1816 novel The Antiquary which contains a similar concurrence of collections, antiquarians, young heroes and a haunted ‘Green Room’.67 In this novel, a storm forces young Mr Lovel to spend a night in a haunted apartment belonging to celebrated antiquary Jonathan Oldbuck, a room similar in many respects to the blue-green boudoir at Lowick. It contains a leafy green tapestry depicting ‘a hunting piece’ (complete with stags), causing the room to be named ‘the green Chamber’. Lovel dreams and experiences a state akin to double consciousness in which ‘the furniture of the Green chamber was depicted to his slumbering eye’ and objects become animate: ‘the tapestry waved wildly on the wall, till its dusky forms seemed to become animated. The hunters blew their horns – the stag seemed to fly, the boar to resist, and the hounds to assail the one and pursue the other.68 In this case, Eliot’s ‘gesture back’ grounds Middlemarch in a Romantic tradition that links Ladislaw and Dorothea to Lovel, who, like Will, has a question mark over his parentage and plays the role of young hero, and, like Dorothea, experiences objects in a haunting dream state. Middlemarch, despite its reputation as a classic realist novel, is infused with dreamlike elements and builds on both the romantic inheritance of Scott and the tradition of the art-romance.69
Romantic tropes of sleep and dreams combine with mid-Victorian psychology to position and articulate Dorothea’s responses to the museum of Rome. Faced with the ‘unintelligible’ and nightmarish city she draws on the interpretive potential of its fragments in order to comprehend an increasingly disjointed sense of self. In the city’s dream spaces and later in the blue-green boudoir, Eliot presents a constructivist hermeneutics in which the linking of parts to wholes and the assembling of fragments are central to Dorothea’s attempts to connect the ideals embodied in Rome’s art and sculpture to the realities of her life.70 Through this process, Dorothea is able to overcome the paralysing moment of ‘blockage’ provoked by her experience of a Roman sublime.71
The authors I have discussed use contemporary psychological ideas to develop aesthetic discourses. Through their depictions of the museum as a dream space, Dickens, Hawthorne and Eliot explore a complex and fluid set of relations between realism and idealism as philosophies of perception and as aesthetic categories, and realism and romance as modes of writing. Their novels were written at a time when museums were trying to become socially relevant, to have a ‘measureable impact’ as we might say today. Many (such as the South Kensington Museum and its sister institution at Bethnal Green) took a didactic approach to the interpretation of their collections based on the exposition of ‘object lessons’. Visitor reactions, however, do not always correspond to curatorial aims. Museums can also be affective spaces provoking both emotional expression and creative freeplay in the minds of their visitors. To explore the nature of such responses, the authors I examine here turned to Italian collections. Through their depiction of the museum of Italy as a ‘dream space’, they were able to explore the intricate relations between mind and body, the conscious and the unconscious, psychology and aesthetic response.