Edith Wharton was no stranger to nervousness, neurological ailments and, in particular, neurasthenia. Although the long-established claim that she was, in 1898, subjected to Silas Weir Mitchell’s notorious rest cure has recently been challenged by Shari Benstock (93-4), Wharton’s biography is, through the nervous disorders of two of her closest male companions, her husband Teddy Wharton and her literary friend Henry James, punctuated by the experience of neuropathology. In fact, it was “dear H.J.” (15 October 1907, Letters 116), who, in 1920, took the rest cure himself while Wharton expertly described his case as one “for a neurologist” (19 March 1910, Letters 202). Wharton, it seems, knew what she was talking about. During considerable parts of her marriage and especially from 1909 to her divorce in early 1913, she had to observe how her husband’s “sweetness of temper and boyish enjoyment of life struggled long against the creeping darkness of neurasthenia”, from which, according to the opinion of “all the neurologists we consulted”, “there could be no recovery” (A Backward Glance 326). In an unusual reversal of gender dynamics, it was the men in Wharton’s life who, in the first decades of the twentieth century, succumbed to supposedly feminine nervous pathologies, whereas the ‘masculine’, rational and cool-headed Wharton was charged with supervising their recoveries.
|Title of host publication||Neurology and modernity: a cultural history of nervous systems, 1800-1950|
|Place of Publication||Basingstoke|
|Publication status||Published - 2010|