Speaking Gender, Sexuality and Law at the Kitchen Table

Prof Marie-Andree Jacob

Watching the fasting girl: observation, observance, and care

24 March 2021

Online - Free Event

Open to all


1PM - 3PM


The watching performed by modern medicine is seen as crucial in figuring health related controversies and consensus in society, as well as keeping the power to define in the hands of doctors. To interrogate and refine this understanding I examine the mysterious case of the Victorian fasting girl Sarah Jacob (1857-1869), by reviewing the account of the case by Dr Robert Fowler, as well as newspaper and medical journal articles, and secondary literature. I consider the watch of Sarah Jacob as a mixed practice involving care, fraud detection, policing, and bedside medicine extending to the realm of nursing. Using watching as heuristic device, I show how historically medicine and law have made and remade fasting female bodies. I ask: What forms can the watch of a fasting girl take, and what frames does this watch can be read with? How is this nineteenth century story of watching recognizable, and to whom; and could this say something about contemporary law, medicine and nursing and their continued struggle to watch and act upon the exotic spectacle and inexplicable mystery of fasting bodies?  In turn, we might interrogate whether the watching of certain bodies marginalized by medicine, such as miraculous or inexplicable young female bodies, can disrupt implicit aspects within the frameworks of health care law and practice.  

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