Tales of Sleep and Sleeplessness

Marina Benjamin at the TLS:

When Burne-Jones painted his Briar Rose cycle, grown women who had too much to say and to do were being forcibly put to bed. They were diagnosed as hysterics, depressives and neurasthenics, whose delicate nerves were no match for their mental gymnastics, and given a prescription of hardcore rest. Many of these women were insomniac. Some had eating disorders; others were suicidal. To a woman (almost) they balked at the societal restrictions that corralled them into being mothers and homemakers and disallowed anything else. Nervous conditions, sleeplessness, self-starvation (that is, disappearing before you are made to disappear), this was their protest.

The writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman described how at Silas Weir Mitchell’s Philadelphia clinic, in the spring of 1887, she was “put to bed and kept there”. Mitchell was the physician who devised the infamous rest cure, after working with soldiers who had emerged from the Civil War afflicted with “wounded nerves”.

more here.

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