We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Find using OpenURL

Reading the Rest Cure
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Michael Blackie  

Michael Blakie is a doctoral candidate in the department of English at the University of Southern California, where he is completing a dissertation entitled "Rest Cures: The Narrative Life of a Medical Practice."


I want to acknowledge the financial support of three institutions. A Francis Clark Wood Resident Research Fellowship from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia made it possible for me to spend an entire summer reading into the rest cure's rich history. A grant from the University of Southern California's Center for Feminist Research supplemented my stay in Philadelphia. The Helfand Fellowship in the Medical Humanities from the New York Academy of Medicine allowed me to continue my study of the rest cure. I also want to thank four individuals. Chris Stanwood at the College of Physicians was uncommonly patient and generous. Hilary Schor's last-minute insights pulled the essay together. I am most grateful to Joe Boone, my teacher, who read numerous drafts and added his special polish to my prose, and Nancy Cervetti, a friend and fellow Mitchell scholar, who never tired of listening to me on the phone as I worked on this essay.

1. Nearly all of the essays on Gilman's response to the rest cure that I cite here have been reprinted in numerous critical editions of "The Yellow Wallpaper." These widely cited interpretations make up, I argue, the critical conversation about the rest cure's value as a medical treatment and its resonance across the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Most page citations are from these reprinted editions.

2. Ammons bases her criticism of Mitchell solely on Gilman's writings and Ellen Bassuk's reading of the rest cure in "The Rest Cure: Repetition or Resolution of Victorian Women's Conflicts." This widely cited work by Bassuk attributes patients treated by the British obstetrician William S. Playfair to Mitchell (actually, Bassuk blends together several different case histories into one) and it also makes the error of having Mitchell practicing in London, which he never did.

3. See, for example, Lanser (225-56), Michaels (3-28), and Crewe. Morantz takes many of the rest cure's detractors to task for their misreading of medical history.

4. Dock reexamines the publication history of "The Yellow Wallpaper" and questions a number of the conclusions drawn from misreadings of that history. She also holds out the possibility that Gilman's depiction of Mitchell is less than accurate. Her essay sparked a lively response from two leading Gilman scholars, Catherine Golden and Elaine Hedges, in the following May 1996 issue of PMLA (467-68). See also Dock's critical introduction.

5. The other dominant interpretation is to see all of Mitchell's work with nervous disorders as a footnote to Freud. I, of course, resist this reading as well. It is like saying that there is only one means of transporting all of the psychosomatic uncertainties of the late-nineteenth century into the twentieth: the only ship capable of leading us into modernity is psychoanalysis and Freud must be at its helm. Mitchell often privileged the body at the expense of the psyche, as I show in the following section, but this fact should not prevent us from taking seriously the work Mitchell accomplished or its resonance within culture. When we turn to psychoanalysis, we turn away from the rest cure.

6. In what follows, I am not working from a naïve notion of the body, but inas-much as I find constructionist theories of the body compelling, I also find them to be awfully neat, too neat. The constructionist model too easily codifies all of the material body's messiness into a discursively determined mass that has no knowable existence beyond language. I concur that we understand the body (our bodies) through language, but the body's processes and responses to stimuli and pathogens can also leave us speechless.

7. Neither Mitchell nor Playfair published the photographs. Playfair, it seems, intended them to be used in his public debate with colleagues who argued for making anorexia nervosa a disease category separate from neurasthenia. See Gull. In these essays, Gull included engravings from portraits very similar to Playfair...

You must be logged in through an institution that subscribes to this journal or book to access the full text.


Shibboleth authentication is only available to registered institutions.

Project MUSE

For subscribing associations only.