Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CBR III Review #1 The Fasting Girl: A True Victorian Medical Mystery by MIchelle Stacey

I was right in the middle of reading The Corrections when the book disappeared. Went kaput amidst all the newly opened gifts and Christmas ornaments. I eventually found the said book but not before I started and finished this one that I'm writing about now, which I picked up at a local bookstore for 50 pesos (around 1$).

The Fasting Girl examines the life of the Brooklyn Enigma, Mollie Fancher, a girl who lived during the 19th century (that's the 1800's yeah? Why can't the 1800's just be the 18th century to be all uniform? I know that there's a good explanation, I just want it to be that way, ok?). She was a fairly ordinary, intelligent, upper middle class girl who, after two accidents became bedridden for the rest of her life. She developed a host of symptoms such as paralysis, seizures, blindness, trances... you name it. But she was most famous for the claim that she had not eaten anything for a period of around 14 years, as well as her claims of psychic ability. She was a sensation during her time, made a poster girl by the Spiritualist movement, criticized and branded a fraud by the most eminent physicians of the period, followed closely by the local press, and beloved by her supporters.

Extraordinary as the story is, the author uses it more as a jumping of point to discuss various Victorian era maladies and phenomena. Stacey discusses the many diseases that seem to have plagued mostly women during that period but which seem to have disappeared in the modern world. Invalidism, hysteria, dyspepsia is discussed as well as their various remedies and theories as tho their causes. She correlates these illnesses with the society and the general condition of women during that period.

In fact, not only does Stacy discuss all that, she gives a general picture of that period. From media (newspapers) in relation to their coverage of the Fancher case, Spiritualist movement, medicine, anorexia, even transportation. Basically, anything that relates even a tiny bit to the Fancher case, she discusses.

As for Mollie Fancher, Stacy opines, based on historical accounts and the opinion of modern specialists, that she may have had dissociative identity disorder, which she explains at great length.

It was an interesting and packed read with really a lot of subjects touched upon. Some topics I was more interested in that others. However, I felt that I lacked understanding on the supposed subject of the book, Molly Fancher itself. If this was a medical mystery, then the mystery is still unsolved. I guess that a more definite conclusion would have been impossible considering the lack of evidence or whatevs, but for me, it did not deliver on the "real medical mystery" part of its titles. Instead, I learned a lot of random stuff about the Victorian era, anorexia and old timey sicknesses. Which is ok too.

(Who knew? Seems like I could write a 3 paragraph review.)
-finished reading the Corrections and currently reading A Girl Named Zippy.

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