Sleep in Early Modern England


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Sasha Handley

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A riveting look at how the early modern world revolutionized sleep and its relation to body, mind, soul, and society

Drawing on diverse archival sources and material artifacts, Handley reveals that the way we sleep is as dependent on culture as it is on biological and environmental factors. After 1660 the accepted notion that sleepers lay at the mercy of natural forces and supernatural agents was challenged by new medical thinking about sleep’s relationship to the nervous system. This breakthrough coincided with radical changes shaping everything from sleeping hours to bedchambers. Handley’s illuminating work documents a major evolution in our conscious understanding of the unconscious.

Sasha Handley is senior lecturer in early modern history at the University of Manchester. Her previous book is Visions of an Unseen World: Ghost Beliefs and Ghost Stories in Eighteenth-Century England. She lives in Manchester, UK.

'Sasha Handley’s Sleep in Early Modern England is sewn together like a fine quilt. Each chapter on slumber invites another - Handley and the subject of sleep make good bedfellows. She guides the reader through the material culture of the early modern bedroom, detailing truckle beds, linen sheets, and other stuff that dreams were dreamt on. She bolsters our understanding of how, where and when people slept in the early modern period, and also of various other tidbits, such as of the role of pre-sleep prayers and the use of dimity bedcovers. We also encounter the nasties which lurked: the bedbugs and the rough sheets for the servants, made of coarse linen and marked with an "S". An enjoyable book.' - Emily Cockayne, author of Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England

“A welcome contribution that fills a gap in the literature . . . a well-presented and authoritative review of the subject that is laced with fascinating titbits of information embedded in a scholarly monograph.”—John M.T. Ford, British Society of Medical Historians Review

“Handley’s illuminating work documents a major evolution in our conscious understanding of the unconscious. The judges commented in particular on the book’s novelty, and on the rich and thoroughly researched study of an important part of everyday life to which historians have paid little attention. The readers described the book as a significant contribution to social and cultural history, and an interesting and thought-provoking volume.”—Judges, Social History Society 

“Equally rich in its description of religious views and the trappings of what Handley calls sleep-piety among the devout. . . . It is marvellous to learn that Charles II used medicine made from powdered human skulls to help him sleep. If you want to be entertained and instructed as you prepare to slip out of consciousness yourself, do take this book to bed.”—Faramerz Dabhoiwala, Literary Review

“This book contains several increasingly important strands of historical thought: the histories of material objects, the body, the emotions and the senses. Handley’s materially and emotionally rich account of early modern sleep shows that the early modern bedchamber was a space where these histories intertwined.”—John Gallagher, London Review of Books

Sleep in Early Modern England is a wonderful book. It is beautifully written, exhaustively researched, and consistently fascinating.”—Garrett A. Sullivan Jr., Renaissance Quarterly

“Full of colourful details that make for an engrossing study.”—Angela Ranson, Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780300220391
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
296 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
25 b/w illus.