Sunday, September 29, 2013

Eighty Days

By Matthew Goodman

November 14, 1889 -- Two women set off from New York, one heading east and one heading west. Their goal: get back to New York in less than eighty days.
Inspired by the Jules Verne novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, Nelly Bly, intrepid woman reporter known for her investigative journalism,  and sponsored by her employer, the New York newspaper The World, set forth by ship, headed to Europe in a trek around the world. Getting wind of Bly's excursion, the magazine Cosmopolitan decided to send one of their female writers off on a similar trek, only their writer, Elizabeth Bisland, would start out by heading across the U.S. by train to California, there to board ship for the Orient. Their idea was that Bly, upon arriving on the West Coast would have to deal with the harsh Midwestern winter weather as she traveled east back to New York which might slow her down drastically, maybe even stall her for some time.
Bly and Bisland were alike in some respects. Both were young women in their twenties, unmarried and obliged to support themselves. Both were talented and evocative writers. Bly was a reporter, not afraid to go undercover to expose abuse and corruption. Bisland was not a reporter, she wrote genteel magazine articles about literature and poetry. Bly set forth with only one small piece of luggage and only one dress and a coat but Bisland took several pieces of luggage with her and several dresses suitable for various occasions. But both women had this in common, that they were going to experience and see things they never dreamed of and it would a very rewarding and enlightening experience.

This was a great and exciting read. The author really made the two trips come alive. Bly came back convinced that America had all the other places of the world beat. But Bisland came back enriched by and appreciative of what other cultures had to offer. I particularly enjoyed the picture painted by the author of those cultures before they became changed by contact with the rest of the world. A real trip back in time, I almost felt like I'd been there and seen it all for myself.

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