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Lying Awake

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Essay i
Prose: Leading Article i
Subjects Dreams; Visions; Sleep
Psychology; Psychiatry; Mental Health; Mind-Body Relations (Metaphysics)
Other Details
Printed : 30/10/1852
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume VI
Magazine : No. 136
Office Book Notes
Views : 7240

In this insomniac reverie Dickens mingles memories of his travels in America (1842) and Switzerland (1846), and of many visits to Paris, with a vivid childhood reminiscence and with more recent news items. He had ascended the Great St Bernard with a party of friends, including two very dear ones, the Hon. Richard Watson and his wife Lavinia (Watson's death, in July 1852, grieved him deeply), at the beginning of September 1846. He wrote a lively description of the convent and its monks to Forster (Forster, Book 5, Ch. 4) in which he called the monks 'a piece of sheer humbug...a lazy set of fellows...driving a good trade in Innkeeping'. The convent's 'menagerie smell' he refers to again in Little Dorrit (Book 2, Ch. 1): 'a smell...coming up from the floor, of tethered beasts, like the smell of a menagerie of wild animals'. 

The 'balloon ascents' Dickens mentions took place at various London pleasure gardens during August and September 1852, Cremorne being particularly noted for them. It was at Cremorne that a French acrobat ascended on a trapeze, suspending himself 'first by his neck and then by his heels', and a Mme Pritevin, 'in the character of Europa', ascended on the back of a heiffer. She incurred the displeasure of the local magistrates and both she and the manager of the Gardens were fined for cruelty to animals (see W. W. Wroth, Cremorne and the Later London Gardens [1907], p. 9ff.). The Paris Morgue, in which bodies fished out of the river and other anonymous corpses were publicly exposed for identification purposes, always fascinated Dickens and he invariably visited it whenever he was in the city (see ['Railway Dreaming', HW, Vol. XIII, 10 May 1856] and 'The Uncommercial Traveller [XVIII]', AYR, Vol. IX, 16 May 1863, retitled 'Some Recollections of Mortality' in collected editions of the series); see also Harry Stone, The Night Side of Dickens [1994], pp. 86–100, 564–6). 'The late brutal assaults': Dickens is probably referring here to several cases of violent assault on the police reported in The Times during the last ten days or so of October. His going for a 'night walk' was also a habitual activtity with him and is the subject of one of the Uncommercial Traveller essays. 

Literary allusions 

  • 'My uncle...falling asleep': Washington Irving, Tales of a Traveller, 'The Adventures of My Uncle' (1824); 
  • 'Benjamin Franklin's paper on...dreams': in the Work of Benjamin Franklin, consisting of essays, humorous, moral and literary, with his Life written by himself (Halifax, 1837) (Franklin is talking about sweat-drenched bedclothes, and the first sentence in the passage quoted by Dickens continues in the original, 'till your skin has had time to discharge its load, which it will do sooner as the air may be drier and colder'); 
  • 'the death of each day's life': Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 2, Sc. 2; 
  • 'transported beyond the ignorant present': ibid., Act 1, Sc. 5; 
  • '"I am a gone `Coon"': recalling an anecdote related by Captain Marryat in his Diary in America (1839); 
  • 'Pet Prisoning': refers to 'Pet Prisoners', an earlier essay by Dickens criticising the 'soft' treatment of prisoners and published in HW, [Vol. I], 27 April 1850 (see Vol. 2 of [the Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens' Journalism] edition, pp. 212–27; also [Vol. 3 of the Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens' Journalism], p. 314f.). 
Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851–59 (1998). DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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