Intrepid journalist Nellie Bly raced through a ‘man’s world’ — alone and literally with just the clothes on her back — to beat the fictional record set by Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. She won the race on 25 January 1890, covering 21,740 miles by ocean liner and train in 72 days, and became a global celebrity. Although best known for her record-breaking journey, even more importantly Nellie Bly pioneered investigative journalism and paved the way for women in the newsroom. Her undercover reporting, advocacy for women’s rights, crusades for vulnerable children, campaigns against oppression and steadfast conviction that ‘nothing is impossible’ makes the world that she circled a better place.
Adventurer, journalist and author, Rosemary J Brown, set off 125 years later to retrace Nellie Bly’s footsteps in an expedition registered with the Royal Geographical Society. Through her recreation of that epic global journey, she brings to life Nellie Bly’s remarkable achievements and shines a light on one of the world’s greatest female adventurers and a forgotten heroine of history.
I am writing this review just after I had to rebook my holliday. Oh lockdown, will you ever end… I am so sad to do so as well, because this book made me want to go on a really long vacation. I constantly found myself on Google looking up pictures of all the wonderful places Nellie and Rosemary visited. Let’s say may head is Full of plans for adventures I want to go on.
Last year I got a graphic novel through Netgalley that told about the life of Nellie Bly. I didn’t like the novel, but did get very interested in this amazing woman. So when I saw Brown’s book on the site I knew I Had to request it. And what a wonderful decision it was.
Nellie was much more than a famous news reporter. She paved the way for female journalists, opening newsroom doors to women like me, and pioneered investigative reporting – the kind of journalism that brings about change and makes the world she circled a better place. Nellie Bly defied the status quo, gave voices to the vulnerable, championed women’s rights and challenges us, still today, to believe that ‘nothing is impossible if one applies a certain amount of energy in the right direction’.
Nellie started her career in investigative journalism by feigning insanity and getting herself locked up in an asylum, and upon her release 10 days later wrote about the horrible treatment she and the other patients received. This book however tells us about how she took on the challenge set by Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days, and in the winter of 1889 she traveled around the world in 72 days, by herself, with a single bag for luggage and only 1 dress. This during a time where a woman couldn’t even travel to the other city of the city unchaperoned. We also follow Rosemary Brown as she follows in Nellie’s footsteps 125 years later (though with much nicer accomodations and comfortable modes of travel). Rosemary did mainly so in spirit though, as she skipped the Middle East (for safety reasons) and crossed all of the United States by plane from Japan to New York. Though in a way understandable, this was quite a shame. I would have liked to have read Nellie’s accounts of these places as well.
Rosemary is a journalist herself, and she can definitely write. It was just wonderful to read her travel journal, interspersed with quotes from Nellie. Although this may seem like some heavy reading from the outside, it feels more like Rosemary is just talking to us than anything. It was very nice to see how much things have changed in the 125 years between the two journeys. Places like Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore have grown and developed enourmously from the colonial places Nellie visited. It was nice to see Brown hunt down the few remaining temples, statues and the one hotel that have remained.
This was a very enjoyable read for me, and an inspiring one for sure. Brown comes of as a bit rich and priviliged at times (especially the letter she receives from her daughter at the start of the book came as a shock to me), but overall has made me want to visit places I never thought I would want to go to. Be aware though that this book may not be as Nellie centered as you might want to.