The Fasting Girl
The Fasting Girl: A True Victorian Medical Mystery, written by Michelle Stacey, is a very interesting book, but it is also a bit of a slow read. The book begins with the story of Mollie Fancher, The Brooklyn Enigma, who lived for 12 years "on a few teaspoons of milk and a small banana." She had numerous symptoms that varied throughout her life, including trances, paralysis, "second sight," blindness and once the illness began, she spent the rest of her life confined to her bed. Her story ran in newspapers around the world, and the American public became obsessed with her other young women who, like her, appeared to live on next to nothing. Her case was argued in the press through letters from "experts" in medicine and religion. Michelle Stacey makes the point that during the Victorian Era; Darwin's Theory of Evolution was introduced, pitting science against religion in a way that changed history. Scientists and doctors battled over the Fancher case in the press, and their profession did not necessarily dictate which side of the issue they supported.
After fleshing out Mollie Fancher’s story and chronicles the lives of the people arguing for and against her claims in the press, Ms. Stacey parallels Fancher's symptoms and the symptoms of modern day anorexics. Medical and religious history, philosophy and psychology are all explored in the context of hysteria, anorexia and even chronic fatigue syndrome. The author makes a lot of interesting points about this complex phenomenon, but in the end there is no definitive answer to the question of how Mollie Fancher achieved fame by “surviving on air.”