A richly detailed double narrative of the adventures of two young women journalists in a race against time, each striving to be the first to travel around the world in 75 days, outdoing the fictional Phileas Fogg’s 80 days.
Goodman (The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York, 2008, etc.) provides a clear picture of not only Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, but also of journalism in the 1890s and women’s place in that field. Their roles were very different: Bly was a plucky investigative journalist for Joseph Pulitzer’s daily newspaper the World, while Bisland wrote features and book reviews for the Cosmopolitan, a monthly magazine. Pulitzer’s goal for the stunt was to raise circulation for his newspaper, and it succeeded, as readers followed the story and millions submitted their guesses for the exact time of the race’s finish. As the winner, arriving back in 72 days, Bly briefly became a national figure, but fame ended her career in undercover journalism, and she struggled to make a living until her marriage to a 70-year-old millionaire, whose firm later declared bankruptcy. Bisland came in five days later and promptly disappeared from the public eye; however, she continued to write and married and lived well, which prompts the author to raise the question: Who was the real winner? Goodman’s depiction of the swashbuckling Bly, whose self-regard often seemed larger than her regard for the truth, is somewhat less sympathetic than his portrait of the now-forgotten Bisland. The author also examines the shenanigans of the press, the vicissitudes of travel and the global power of the British Empire in the Victorian era.
A tad overlong, but entertaining and readable throughout.