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The Dream Debate and the Periodical in the 1860s

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posted on 2020-07-17, 14:50 authored by Hayley Flynn
Dream was a frequently discussed topic in periodicals of the 1860s, appearing in publications as diverse as medical, spiritualist, women’s and general literary periodicals. The question of what dreaming was attracted both public and professional interest and drew a variety of theories from scientific, supernatural and theological perspectives. However, the debate that arose from these differing theories was not one of three clearly defined sides. Scientific, supernatural and theological theories on dreaming often overlapped, as can be seen clearly in spiritualist beliefs, which sought to scientifically explain the supposedly supernatural.
Amongst these three interconnecting sides of the debate are themes which appear throughout factual and fictional dream discussions. These themes, which include, for example, insanity, the influence of drugs on the mind and prophetic dreams, highlight the crucial role of dream in exploring the function of the mind. Periodicals provided a unique platform for this variety of themes to be explored from all three sides of the dream debate. This was not only because the frequency of publication ensured that the most recent thoughts and theories on dreaming were continuously available. The ability to pose open questions and conjectures about dream also allowed periodicals to participate in the dream debate in a way that books on the subject did not. For general literary periodicals in particular, the ability to display various strands of dream theory in various formats, including in serialised fiction, meant that the complexity of the subject of dream could be fully explored. The representation of dream in periodicals during the 1860s overall reveals the centrality of dream to contemporary theories on the function of the mind and, therefore, to the developing subject of psychology, as well as the particular importance of the periodical in providing the platform for this development, and the dream debate, to take place.



Gowan Dawson

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of English

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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