Wednesday, January 30, 2013

EIGHTY DAYS by Matthew Goodman

In the 1890s Jules Vernes' novel Around the World in Eight Days was popular.  An ambitious young woman reporter for The World newspaper in New York suddenly thought she could possibly beat that record in real life, alone.  She studied timetables and planned before approaching her boss and talking him into the journey.  She would set out by ship from Hoboken, NJ and finish there in less than 80 days.

News of her race against time spread quickly.  It inspired the editor of Cosmopolitan (which was a totally different publication pre-Helen Gurley Brown) to send one of his columnists in the opposite direction in hopes of beating the World reporter.

So Nelly Bly, reporter extraordinaire, and Elizabeth Bisland, beautiful, sophisticated literary type set out on their race.  Nelly Bly was a pseudonym taken from a popular song of the day.  She didn't know about Bisland's attempt until they practically crossed paths in the Far East.

This is a long book of nearly 400 pages but my interest in it never flagged.  One ad I saw compared Goodman's handling of the story to Erik Larson and I agree.  There are pictures of the people and places and modes of transport to help the reader feel part of the exciting trip.  Complications abounded for both women as weather, miscommunications, and mechanical problems with ships and steamers conspired to slow them down.  

One funny part of Nelly Bly's story is that she was suddenly approached by several young men, one at a time, who seemed eager to marry her.  Rumor had it that she was an heiress who was traveling to mend a broken heart.  Her sudden suitors were looking for someone wealthy to support them, and at least one didn't mind saying so.  Finally she told one young man that it was all an act; actually she was quite poor and a friend had paid for her trip.  That was the end of the suitors.

I won't ruin the story by telling you who won the race but even afterward the story of the two women and the rest of their life is fascinating.  In retrospect, I suppose I could have predicted their fate, but then again maybe not.

Highly recommended reading
Source:  Amazon Vine

1 comment:

  1. Gary Blackwood wrote an excellent one-woman play about Nelly Bly's trip - it was fantastic.

    Perhaps I'll pick up this book and expand my knowledge of this plucky woman.