Natasha Lee

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20042005 Forum on Sleep and Dreams

Natasha Lee

Assistant Professor, French, Bryn Mawr College

Dreams and Sleep in the French Enlightenment

Dr. Lee’s current manuscript project, “Unsettling Signs: Society, Nature and the Novel, 1760–1802,” explores the relation between French novels of the late eighteenth century and the increasingly dominant discourses of science in the Enlightenment. In this project, she examines how the emergence of the French novel can be seen not simply through the rise of sentimentality, but also through the double lens of interiority and its relation to science—a double lens that also defines dreams. 

Whether direct reflections of an inner self, a visionary state that grants a view of a future world, or the non-conscious workings of the mind, dreams occupy a central place in eighteenth century fiction as a truth that must be written and requires language to be recorded. By their virtual nature, dreams “double” literature. French Enlightenment novelists thus find in dreams the vindication of fiction: dreams—the realm of the possible—are scientific phenomena that are carefully tracked and observed by fiction. Dreams, unlike history, are not necessarily even truth-like, but possible truths.