Starvation Height is the true story of two wealthy British sisters who ended up under the spell of Dr. Linda Hazzard. Just the photo on the cover alone is creepy. I will admit for a blog that talks about food this is a rather odd and creepy book. Adding to the oddity was the fact that I read this book last year during the holidays as I was stuffing myself with Christmas cookies and cranberry delicacies.
It struck me as rather odd that I was reading a book about starvation treatment while enjoying the food of the season.
I found the story rather entrancing and unbelievable. Dorothea and Claire Williamson were both happily unmarried when they decided to visit Dr. Hazzard's Wilderness Heights for a health and diet treatment. Considered to be hypochondriacs, the sisters decided to participate in Dr. Hazzard's regime after reading her book promising strength and health. Considered slightly spoilt the sisters did not inform any of their family members about their decision to participate in this bizarre treatment.
Initially the sisters started off the treatment from their apartment in the city. Surviving on a broth diet, neighbors started to become concerned as the sisters started wasting away. The doctor would have her patients subscribe to a regiment of minimal calories and rather brutal massages.
After a period of weight loss the doctor had the sisters transferred to her unfinished spa in the wilderness. Isolated from family and society the sisters continued their decline. Realizing all was not right, a telegram was sent to their childhood nanny who came across the Atlantic to their side. Arriving at Olalla, the nanny was shocked to learn that one sister had died and the other was on the verge of insanity. The good doctor would not release Dorothea to the custody of her nanny without a fight.
Williamson's family enlisted the help of the British embassy to prosecute the doctor for the death of one of their subjects.
This is truly a creepy story. Dr. Hazzard was ahead of times as a female practitioner in the early 1900's. Her actions were truly reprehensible and borne of greed. I found it amazing that her patients would follow her strict regime of starvation in hope of seeking a healthier lifestyle. Even as she was being prosecuted, Dr. Hazzard continued to practice and kill off her patients.