Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

II.XIV.3 Mirth

Historical proof also Lily exists to actuate Lily’s death by suicide. In 2007, The New York Times reported the story of a newly recovered letter from Wharton to Dr. Francis Kinnicutt, who was treating her husband’s mental illness at the time. Written in December of 1904, journalist Charles McGrath highlights the letter’s contents:

‘A friend of mine has made up her mind to commit suicide,’ Wharton writes, ‘& has asked me to find out ... the most painless & least unpleasant method of effacing herself.’ Only on the second page does Wharton reveal that her ‘friend’ is in fact a fictional character appearing in the pages of Scribner’s, . . . ‘What soporific, or nerve-calming drug, would a nervous and worried young lady in the smart set be likely to take to, & what would be its effects if deliberately taken with the intent to kill herself? I mean, how would she feel and look toward the end?

Wharton’s request provides fascinating insight into the questions she was concerned with answering as she detailed the final moments of Lily’s life. Moreover, she insinuates that Lily’s “dread” of being drawn to the chemist’s shop refers to her fear of death, as well as her inability to keep herself from chasing it.

An 1889 obituary from the Alexandria Gazette details a similar, real-life death by chloral hydrate, in this case it was assumed to be accidental as Lily's appears to be presented in the last chapter of Mirth

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