Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sharon Aronofsky Weltman


Despite growing scholarly recognition of subversive social and political content in Victorian fairy tales, their significance in relation to the oft-cited Victorian "spiritual crisis" remains largely unexplored. This interdisciplinary study addresses that critical gap by examining three literary revisions of Sleeping Beauty from the early 1860s as pointed efforts to enter the intensified religious debate following the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species. The three revisions---Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations (1860--61), Christina Rossetti's narrative poem "Goblin Market" (1862) and George MacDonald's fairy-tale "The Light Princess" (1864)---all appropriate the popular Sleeping Beauty narrative to create a vivid and emotionally compelling model of human interaction with an invisible spiritual world. Each features a narcissistic individual who acquires the unselfish ability to love others only after "awakening to" and "embracing" ultimate spiritual reality. The revisions not only depict an encounter with the supernatural realm as transformative, but they concurrently portray the material world as relatively insubstantial and incapable of satisfying human need-producing sharp critiques of Victorian materialism. The primary interest of these metaphysical revisions lies in their alternative perspective on the contemporary "crisis of faith," attributing growing religious uncertainty not to contemporary theory in science and other intellectual disciplines but to a failure of the imagination and philosophical inconsistency---or even hypocrisy---within religious orthodoxy. Collectively, the Sleeping Beauty revisions indict Victorian society for smugness, superficiality, obsession and delusion. Moreover, through their deliberate contrast with contemporary literary and artistic representations of Sleeping Beauty, the revisions argue that this fairy tale has become a false societal emblem of material advancement and domestic security.