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Cannonball Read V: Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

By AnaStar13 | Book Reviews | January 23, 2013 | Comments ()


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Nellie Bly was a remarkable journalist, industrialist, and charity worker. She was the first person to travel around the world in less than 80 days, inspired by Jules Verne's novel, and in 1887, she pretended to be insane so that she could investigate an insane asylum from the inside. This book, Ten Days in a Mad-House, is her exposé. It was originally published in the New York World and soon after, was made into a book in response to the overwhelming demand for the story.

The book is less than a hundred pages and it is riveting. The first half describes what she had to do to get herself committed and it's surprisingly funny. That's why I was totally unprepared for the brutality and abuse described in the second half of the book, when she is locked up in the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island. It's an absolutely terrifying account of how people who were judged insane were treated. There were several women in the asylum whom Bly believed to be completely sane but their protests were dismissed as lunatic raving. There were at least two others whose 'insanity' was that they didn't speak English and could not plead their own cases. For that crime, they were locked away for the rest of their lives. The women were tortured, beaten, starved or given spoiled food. One woman that arrived with Bly and seemed to be fine was literally driven mad by the nurses in the asylum.

Ten days after her arrival, the newspaper Bly was writing for pulled her out of the asylum, her story was published, the world was shocked, and she was a star. An investigation was launched by a grand jury and the Department of Public Charities and Corrections received an increase of $100,000 to its budget.

Ten Days in a Mad-House was a fascinating read and I don't know why this isn't a movie yet.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and find more of AnaStar13's reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • baxlala

    Um, this books sounds fucking awesome. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, I can't wait to read it!

  • BLA

    I first heard about her story in the Frankenpine song "Blackwell Island," as the band gives her history before playing it. So awesome.

    http://store.frankenpinemusic....

  • csb

    She got mentioned on QI a while back. It was honestly the first I had heard of her.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • nixiepoo

    im surprised no movie has been done on Nellie Bly's life! i assume it's because noone in Hollywood knows history.

  • BWeaves

    Nellie Bly piped her eye
    When she went to sleep.
    When she wakened up again,
    Her eye began to peep.

    Hey Nellie, ho Nellie
    Hearken unto me.
    I'll sing to thee, I'll play to thee
    A joyful melody.

    I have no idea what that means, but I learned that song when I was little and living in England. I didn't know Nellie Bly was a real person. An incredible person. Thanks.

  • mswas

    From what I see, the song preceded the woman in this biography, Elizabeth Cochran, who used "Nellie Bly" as her pen name. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/...

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Nellie Bly was her pen name, not her real name, so she probably took it from the song.

    There aren't any major films about her (that I know of), but there was a tv movie and a musical(!). And I've seen a few plays based on her & her writings. She truly is the model for every "intrepid girl reporter" you've ever read about.

  • Kballs

    I thought the journalist's story from AHS: Asylum sounded familiar. This lady had courage to spare putting herself in a situation like that. I will look for this book immediately and read it in one sitting.

  • KatSings

    I was going to say that this sounded like Lana. I just shared this review to our AHS group so they can check it out!

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