Cultures of Neurasthenia

From Beard to the First World War


Neurasthenia, meaning nerve weakness, was ‘invented’ in the United States as a disorder of modernity, caused by the fast pace of urban life. Soon after, from the early 1880s onwards, this modern disease crossed the Atlantic. Neurasthenia became much less ‘popular’ in Britain or the Netherlands than in Germany. Neurasthenia’s heyday continued into the first decade of the twentieth century. The label referred to conditions similar to those currently labelled as chronic fatigue syndrome. Why this rise and fall of neurasthenia, and why these differences in popularity?
This book, which emerged out of an Anglo-Dutch-German conference held in June 2000, explores neurasthenia’s many-sided history from a comparative perspective.
Restricted Access


EUR €48.00USD $65.00

Review Quotes

”The volume is an important addition to the historical literature on neurasthenia and should be welcomed as a significant contribution to scholarship.” in: Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2006
Cultures of Neurasthenia is a welcome contribution, not only to history of medicine but also to broader social and cultural history general. …This collection is an inspiring invitation to medical and social historians to join forces and embark on more comparative work.” in: Wellcome History, Vol. 22, 2003
“…a fascinating and colourful book … and a valuable contribution to the history of psychiatry and psychiatric treatment.” in: Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2002
“Wer sich also über die Neurasthenie informieren will, greift mit Gewinn zu diesem Sammelband.” in: Gesnerus, Swiss Journal of the History of Medicine and Sciences, Vol. 59 (2002)
“…varied and thought-provoking… […] This is […] a timely and welcome volume.” in: Social History of Medicine, Vol. 15, No. 3, 2002
“…worthwhile…” – Mark Welch, in: Metapsychology Online Book Reviews 2002
“…a great collection that deserves a wide readership…” in: Medical History, April 2003, 47(2)

Table of contents

Marijke GIJSWIJT-HOFSTRA: Introduction: Cultures of Neurasthenia from Beard to the First World War
Roy PORTER: Nervousness, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Style: From Luxury to Labour
Tom LUTZ: Varieties of Medical Experience: Doctors and Patients, Psyche and Soma in America
Mathew THOMSON: Neurasthenia in Britain: An Overview
Chandak SENGOOPTA: ‘A Mob of Incoherent Symptoms’ ? Neurasthenia in British Medical Discourse, 1860-1920
Hilary MARLAND: ‘Uterine Mischief’: W.S. Playfair and his Neurasthenic Patients
Michael NEVE :Public Views of Neurasthenia: Britain, 1880-1930
Doris KAUFMANN: Neurasthenia in Wilhelmine Germany: Culture, Sexuality, and the Demands of Nature
Volker ROELCKE: Electrified Nerves, Degenerated Bodies: Medical Discourses on Neurasthenia in Germany, circa 1880-1914
Joachim RADKAU: The Neurasthenic Experience in Imperial Germany: Expeditions into Patient Records and Side-looks upon General History
Heinz-Peter SCHMIEDEBACH: The Public's View of Neurasthenia in Germany: Looking for a New Rhythm of Life
Joost VIJSELAAR: Neurasthenia in the Netherlands
Jessica SLIJKHUIS: Neurasthenia as Pandora's Box? 'Zenuwachtigheid' and Dutch Psychiatry around 1900
Marijke GIJSWIJT-HOFSTRA: In Search of Dutch Neurasthenics from the 1880s to the early-1920s
Nelleke BAKKER: A Harmless Disease: Children and Neurasthenia in the Netherlands
Christopher E. FORTH: Neurasthenia and Manhood in fin-de-siecle France
Sonu SHAMDASANI: Claire, Lise, Jean, Nadia, and Gisele: Preliminary Notes towards a Characterisation of Pierre Janet's Psychasthenia
List of Illustrations


Collection Information