Of Angels and Mermaids: Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder

Cross-posted from: Old Wives Tales'
Originally published: 31.12.16

On 17 December 1869 twelve-year-old Sarah Jacob, the daughter of a Welsh farmer, died of starvation and dehydration. She did so in the midst of plenty, watched over by several adults, including members of the medical professional, who were seeking to ascertain whether or not Jacob could live without food and drink.

In the two years leading up her death Jacob’s parents were insistent that their daughter required no earthly sustenance whatsoever. Her father even went so far as to claim that to feed Sarah would kill her. She became a national celebrity, receiving visitors who saw her as a living saint. Yet it took only eight days of observation, during which she could no longer access whatever nourishment she had till then been taking in secret, to kill her.

In her last days Jacob stole a bottle of eau de cologne from one of the nurses observing her, concealing it under one arm. She also managed to open a stone hot water bottle using her toe, but it spilled over her bed before she was able to drink the contents. She was clearly very desperate, yet under intense pressure from so many credulous observers, she could not reveal the most obvious of truths: that she was not a heavenly being, but an earthly child with basic physical needs. …

 

You can find the full text here.

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