Sleep Disorders and Dual Masculine Desires in Charles Dickens’s “Lying Awake” and “Night Walks”

in Journal of Bodies, Sexualities, and Masculinities

Charles Dickens’s examinations of sleep, dreaming, and sleep disorders illustrate a complicated negotiation between hegemonic ideals of masculinity that rest on notions of bodily control and mental acuity, but they also present an ambivalent (and sometimes adventurous) position open to expanding the definition of masculinity to include a desire to relinquish mental and physical control. Hegemonic masculine ideals are often in tension with one another, and Dickens explores the specific control–freedom contradiction in personal essays, namely “Night Walks” and “Lying Awake.” While the depiction of the bedroom as a space of male anxiety appears throughout Dickens’s work, he expresses this idea most clearly and directly in the above nonfiction texts. The nonfiction essay, over and against the fictional text, allows Dickens to write about sleep disorders and their relation to male anxiety in more personal and pragmatic terms, and to represent the issue in detail without having to be concerned about plot and characterization.

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