The Girl Who Lived on Air
Sarah Jacob was the Carmarthenshire farm girl who dominated the national and regional press for almost all of 1869. In the popular imagination she was ‘the Welsh fasting girl’ and although she was not the first anorexic, she was arguably the first to cause a national furore, and become something of a celebrity. She died despite a team of nurses from Guy’s Hospital stationed at her home in Lletherneuadd, and after the best minds in British medicine had set theorised about the cause of her apparently supernatural existence – living in spite of starvation, losing no weight yet clearly suffering in all kinds of ways.
Sarah’s was not the only story here. Her parents were charged with murder and eventually convicted of manslaughter. The Girl Who Lived on Air retells this human story of an anorexic made to be the centre of a lucrative and also media-hungry ‘spin’ on the nineteenth century nexus of knowledge between science and superstition, folk-belief and religious asceticism. Stephen Wade covers new ground in examining the medical issues surrounding the case, the legal complexities (including the use of Welsh in court) and the interpretation on a newly enacted law which reformulated serious crime, the prison life of Sarah’s parents, and the significance of folklore and superstition in an unusual and yet all too familiar story.