WELSH FASTING GIRL
Varley O'Connor, author of The Welsh Fasting Girl, will speak at the Coventry branch of the CH-UH Public Library on Wedneday, May 8th at 7 p.m.
Twelve-year-old Sarah Jacob was the most famous of the Victorian fasting girls, who claimed to miraculously survive without food, serving as flashpoints between struggling religious, scientific, and political factions. In this novel based on Sarah’s life and premature death from what may be the first documented case of anorexia, an American journalist, recovering from her husband’s death in the Civil War, leaves her home and children behind to travel to Wales, where she investigates Sarah’s bizarre case by becoming the young girl’s friend and confidante. Unable to prevent the girl’s tragic decline while doctors, nurses, and a local priest keep watch, she documents the curious family dynamic, the trial that convicted Sarah’s parents, and an era’s hysterical need to both believe and destroy Sarah’s seemingly miraculous power.
Intense, dark, and utterly compelling, The Welsh Fasting Girl delves into the complexities of a true story to understand how a culture’s anxieties led to the murder of a child.
Varley O'Connor spent six years investigating the mystery of Sarah Jacob's death and writing this novel, traveling to Wales twice to consult with a Welsh legal historian and visit archives and historical sites, including Sarah's church, burial site, the place of her trial, and the castle where her parents were detained. O'Connor adheres closely to the historical facts of Sarah's story, focusing as much on the impact of her death as the effort to keep her alive, and delivering an empathetic novel that brilliantly evokes Wales and one of its most memorable cultural and historical events.
“Honesty and compassion inform every page, and there are passages so musical and full of grace they read like hymns. Reading groups should rejoice.” —Sigrid Nunez
Varley O'Connor is the author of five novels, including The Welsh Fasting Girl, The Master's Muse, and The Cure. She lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio