Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

XI.4 Hudson

 Rowland's skepticism at Roderick's neurasthenic condition underscores popular debates at the turn-of-the-century about the validity of nervous disorders. In these later chapters, Roderick is reminiscent of what William James and his contemporaries termed "Americanitis." A condition most evident when viewed through juxtaposition of American demeanors with those of foreigners. According to Smithsonian Magazine

"Some writers saw Americanitis—'the hurry, bustle and incessant drive of the American temperament,' as the psychiatrist William S. Sadler defined it—as a cause of disease, responsible for high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, heart attack, nervous exhaustion, and even insanity. To others, though, it was a disease it its own right, a consequence of the country’s incessant busyness and a close relative of neurasthenia, another fashionable diagnosis of the day.

Recent technological marvels like electric lights and wireless radio also took some of the blame. The former stood accused of extending the working day to all hours and robbing Americans of sleep; the latter, of turning long-distance communication, once limited to letters, into a frantic exercise in false urgency—a charge that, generations later, would also be leveled against e-mail."

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