The Fasting Girl by Michelle Stacey
A True Victorian Medical Mystery

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Synopsis

A modern investigation of the case of a young Victorian woman who claimed to have survived for twelve years without food.

In 1865, eighteen-year-old Mollie Fancher began suffering a myriad of ailments that included paralysis, spasms, blindness, and trances. Treated with electric shocks, rolled in wet sheets, and fitted with an "ice jacket," Mollie took to her bed in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed there for the rest of her life.

Her story became an international sensation. Fought over by scientists and philosophers, called a "psychological marvel" and a fraud, Mollie was, for more than a decade, reportedly able to "live on air."

In one six-month period alone, she apparently ate nothing more than four teaspoons of milk punch, two teaspoons of wine, one small banana, and a cracker.

But what really happened in Mollie's home? How, and how much, did she eat? Was she willfully deceptive or simply hysterical, emotionally disturbed, delusional? In The Fasting Girl, Michelle Stacey searches for the true story of the Fancher case, delving into such fascinating phenomena as medieval anorexia mirabilis (fasting saints), the tragic wave of copycat Victorian fasting girls, and the dawn of the Age of Neurosis. This riveting literary history evokes such bestsellers as The Professor and the Madman and The Murder of Helen Jewett as it explores the social and technological upheaval of a post-Darwinian, doubting era that very much mirrors our own.
 

About Michelle Stacey

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Michelle Stacey, the author of Consumed: Why Americans Love, Hate, and Fear Food, is a journalist who writes extensively for publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and Allure.
 
Published January 1, 2002 by J P Tarcher. 256 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Self Help, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Mollie Fancher, a pretty teenager invalided in a gruesome Brooklyn street accident in 1865, eventually claimed to have gone entirely without eating for more than a dozen years, much to the outrage of contemporary medical poobahs and the delight of her exploitative hometown newspapers.

Apr 01 2002 | Read Full Review of The Fasting Girl: A True Vict...

Publishers Weekly

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More a cultural history of late 19th-century America than a biography of Fancher, this is a fascinating account of the intellectual currents that shaped the way the nation understood itself and of the cultural pressures that often made it difficult for young women like Fancher to feel stable or s...

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Entertainment Weekly

During the last half of the 19th century the spiritual and secular mingled murkily: Seances allowed John Wilkes Booth to dictate poems from beyond the grave, while scientists debated Darwinism and searched, with maps and microscopes, for the human soul.

Apr 12 2002 | Read Full Review of The Fasting Girl: A True Vict...

Project MUSE

Drawing heavily on contemporary newspapers and on Abram Dailey's 1894 biography of Mollie Fancher, Michelle Stacey's lively account of Mollie's bedridden life conveys the social and cultural atmosphere of Gilded Age New York.

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