Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


Octavia is transported to Dr. Clair’s “psychosanatorium” in the southern California mountains. Her care centers on a “bedroom and balcony treatment," in which she attains a month-long period of uninterrupted rest that results in renewed strength and happiness. After treatment is complete, Octavia recalls: “I slept better than I had for years, and more than I knew at the time, for when restless misery came up they promptly put me to sleep and kept me there . . . [Dr. Clair] made my body as strong as it might be, and rebuilt my wornout nerves with sleep—sleep—sleep” (145). As the trifold repetition of the word “sleep” suggests, Octavia learns—through bedrest treatment—the value of habitual sleep and achieves bodily restoration as a result.

"Dr. Clair's Place" offers a starkly different rest cure than the one proffered in Gilman's magnus opus "The Yellow Wall-Paper" (1892).* In the Forerunner's fourth volume, Gilman reflects on the story in her brief essay “Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper?"** discussing the practice of rest cures as dispensed by prominent male physicians during the era, particularly Silas Weir Mitchell

"Now the story of the story is this: For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia—and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to "live as domestic a life as far as possible," to "have but two hours' intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, brush or pencil again as long as I lived." This was in 1887. I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the border line of utter mental ruin that I could see over. Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again—work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite; ultimately recovering some measure of power. Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, with its embellishments and additions to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it. The little book is valued by alienists and as a good specimen of one kind of literature. It has to my knowledge saved one woman from a similar fate—so terrifying her family that they let her out into normal activity and she recovered. But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading 'The Yellow Wallpaper.' It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked."

In the context of this essay, "Dr. Clair's Place" may serve as an example for how Mitchell further alter "his treatment of neurasthenia." It provides details for an efficient rest cure. Dr. Clair's treatment is similar to Annie Payson Call's in Power Through Repose (1891)***: "Even the restcures, the most simple and harmless of the nerve restorers, serve a mistaken end. Patients go with nerves tired and worn out with misuse,—commonly called over-work. Through rest, Nature, with the warm, motherly help she is ever ready to bring us, restores the worn body to a normal state; but its owner has not learned to work the machine any better, . . . and most occupants of rest-cures find themselves driven back more than once for another ‘rest'" (12).

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