Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

II.VIII.2, II.X.7, II.XII Mirth

In my reading of these last chapters in The House of Mirth, I provide a lengthy close reading of this passage, in which Lily both articulates and physiologically displays the depths of her insomnia and sleep debt, as well as her alarmingly dependence upon caffeine to say awake. I'll add here that in her scenes with Gerty and Rosedale, Wharton shows in great detail the changes in Lily's facial appearance and expressions as a result of her sleep deprivation. With Gerty, the brightness of her face wanes and Lily goes "ghastly pale." Later, Rosedale notices 'the dark pencilling of fatigue under her eyes, the morbid blue-veined pallour of the temples."

A 2013 sleep study* concluded that "Sleep deprivation affects features relating to the eyes, mouth, and skin, and that these features function as cues of sleep loss to other people. Because these facial regions are important in the communication between humans, facial cues of sleep deprivation and fatigue may carry social consequences for the sleep deprived individual in everyday life." 

Gerty's reactions to Lily serve as a measure for the reader to assess how detrimental the protagonist's exhaustion is to her well-being. Later when Lily is employed at the millinery, the negative impact sleeplessness has on her social interactions becomes even more apparent. 

*DOI: 10.5665/sleep.2964

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