This paper 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 paper traces the rise of the insomniac, in the context of medical debates about ‘neurasthenia’, as someone whose identity is constitutively defined by their inability to sleep. It 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 isolated, over-worked individuals at the fin de siècle.
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