Travel has long been praised as a transforming experience. In Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World, author Matthew Goodman tells us how the lives of two young women of the Gilded Age, traveling alone when women were supposed to be chaperoned, were changed by circling the world.
In the 1880s, means of transportation were quickening. With the laying of railroads across continents, launching of ocean-crossing steamships, and the opening of the Suez Canal, trips that had previously taken months could be made in days. Jules Verne recognized the possibilities and delighted readers with his adventure novel Around the World in Eighty Days. With speculation about global travel running high because of Verne's book, journalist Nellie Bly consulted time tables and calculated a trip around the world could be made in only 75 days. In 1889, she proposed that the New York World send her on such a trip. The editors at first declined but later, feeling that they needed a big splashy story to stop a decline in their sales, accepted her idea.
An editor for Cosmopolitan magazine also recognized the opportunity for publicity and within hours of Nellie Bly's departure to the east sent his book reviewer Elizabeth Bisland west in an attempt to beat Bly back to New York. Women who had never met suddenly became rivals.
In Eighty Days, the author recounts two difficult journeys while comparing and contrasting two novice travelers. He also uses incidents from their trips to introduce topics of the age, including the closing of he American frontier, British imperialism, the rise of the tourist industry, and the role of women in journalism. In the concluding chapters, Goodman describes how Bly and Bisland fared after their notoriety faded.
Because most of the story is about the journeys, Eighty Days will be found in the travel section of your public library. History readers should remember to look there for it and other entertaining historical travel adventures.
Goodman, Matthew. Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World. Ballantine Books, 2013. 449p. ISBN 9780345527264.
audiobook: Random House Audio, 2013. 15 compact discs. approximately 19 hours. ISBN 9780385359726.