Examples of sleep in Victorian photography

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Alice Liddell, spring 1860
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Amy and Agnes Hughes, 12 October 1863
David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Sophia Finlay and Harriet Farnie, 1848
Lady Clementina Hawarden, Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens, 1863-64
Lady Clementina Hawarden, Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens, 1862-63

Sleep acquired a certain mystique in Victorian photography, particularly images of sleeping children, and it carried close but not necessarily negative associations with death. Child mortality rates were painfully high, and for Victorian viewers photographs of sleeping innocents could gently remind and comfort them that passing away into the afterlife is not entirely dissimilar to falling asleep into dreams. There is arguably little to distinguish such pictures from the popular and well-known ‘post-mortem’ photographs of the day, since corpses were often posed in a manner to suggest peaceful sleep. In the literature of the day, too, sleep was frequently coupled with death, and these photographs bring to mind Christina Rossetti’s ‘Dream-Land’, ‘After Death’, and others. Of course, images of female models feigning sleep were also for purely artistic effect: the young ladies in Hawarden’s photographs are sunk in their private dreamlands, almost allowing the viewer a glimpse into their inner fantasies through their languid expressions.




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