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Insomnia and the late nineteenth-century insomniac: the case of Albert Kimball

Beaumont, M; (2020) Insomnia and the late nineteenth-century insomniac: the case of Albert Kimball. Interface Focus , 10 (3) , Article 20190074. 10.1098/rsfs.2019.0074. Green open access

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Abstract

This article explores the emergence, in late nineteenth-century Britain and the USA, of the ‘insomniac’ as a distinct pathological and social archetype. Sleeplessness has of course been a human problem for millennia, but only since the late-Victorian period has there been a specific diagnostic name for the individual who suffers chronically from insufficient sleep. The introductory section of the article, which notes the current panic about sleep problems, offers a brief sketch of the history of sleeplessness, acknowledging the transhistorical nature of this condition but also pointing to the appearance, during the period of the Enlightenment, of the term ‘insomnia’ itself. The second section makes more specific historical claims about the rise of insomnia in the accelerating conditions of everyday life in urban society at the end of the nineteenth century. It traces the rise of the insomniac as such, especially in the context of medical debates about ‘neurasthenia’, as someone whose identity is constitutively defined by their inability to sleep. The third section, tightening the focus of the article, goes on to reconstruct the biography of one exemplary late nineteenth-century insomniac, the American dentist Albert Kimball, in order to illustrate the claim that insomnia was one of the pre-eminent symptoms of a certain crisis in industrial and metropolitan modernity as this social condition was lived by individuals at the fin de siècle.

Type: Article
Title: Insomnia and the late nineteenth-century insomniac: the case of Albert Kimball
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rsfs.2019.0074
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsfs.2019.0074
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of English Lang and Literature
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10095398
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