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Nightmare/s in the Long Nineteenth Century

19th May 2022 – King’s College, Cambridge. Keynote speakers: Prof Fabio Camilletti (University of Warwick) and Dr Louise Milne (Edinburgh College of Art)

Nightmare/s in the Long Nineteenth Century 

19th May 2022 – King’s College, Cambridge 

Keynote speakers: 

Prof Fabio Camilletti (University of Warwick) and Dr Louise Milne (Edinburgh College of Art) 

This multidisciplinary one-day conference aims to explore the rich and multifaceted theme of nightmare in the arts, thought, and culture of the long nineteenth century. From Johann Heinrich Füssli’s 1781 oil painting The Nightmare, which was to become the iconic image of a newly emergent sensibility, to the first psychoanalytic investigations culminating in the Freudian study On the Nightmare by Ernest Jones (first published in 1911), the nineteenth century was characterised by a pervasive fascination with nightmares both as frightening dreams and, in their personified form, terrifying creatures or spirits (like the incubus). 

Described by Samuel T. Coleridge as “not a mere Dream” but a peculiar oneiric phenomenon taking place “during a rapid alternation, a twinkling as it were, of sleeping and waking”, in the course of the nineteenth century the nightmare raised fundamental questions about conscience, the mind, fear, the Other, and the fear of the Other. 

It occupied a special place in “the mythology of the Gothic imagination” (Philip W. Martin) not only because nightmares abounded in Gothic texts but also, and more significantly, because some of the most famous works in this genre – such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) – allegedly had their origins in their author’s nightmares. As “a phenomenon of passivity, self-effacement, irrationality, terror, and erotic excess” (Lisa Downing), the nightmare also conveyed cultural anxieties about repressed and deviant aspects of sexuality, as exemplified by another Füssli’s painting, the sapphic An Incubus Leaving Two Sleeping Girls (c. 1793), and by Louis Dubosquet’s definition of the nightmare as a nervous illness similar to hysteria in his medical thesis Dissertation sur le cauchemar (1815). Additionally, the age of imperialism witnessed the rise of ‘colonial nightmares’ which haunted Western imagination and gave voice to fears of racial otherness, as can be seen in “Lukundoo”, an American short story written in 1907 by Edward Lucas White about an explorer cursed by an African witch doctor and based on the authors’ own nightmares. 

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers from various disciplines across the arts & humanities, with different methodological approaches and different geographical focus areas. Topics may include but are not restricted to: 

● 19th -century literary and artistic representations of nightmares; 

● 19th -century psychological and medical understandings of nightmares; 

● nightmares and sleep; ● nightmares and the unconscious; 

● nightmares and the Gothic; 

● nightmares, inspiration, and the creative mind; 

● nightmares, eroticism, and sexuality; 

● nightmares and spectral apparitions; 

● nightmares and hallucinations; 

● nightmares, altered states of consciousness, and psychoactive substances; 

● nightmares and madness; 

● prophetic nightmares; 

● nightmares and the fear of (racial, ethnic, social, sexual…) Otherness; 

● 19th -century non-Western conceptions and depictions of nightmares. 

Abstracts of no more than 300 words, together with a short bio (max. 200 words), should be emailed to nightmaresconference@gmail.com by 28th February 2022. 

The conference is funded by the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. The conference committee, Frances Clemente (University of Oxford) Greta Colombani (University of Cambridge)