A lot can be accomplished in 80 days: a physical transformation of one’s body, a season of athletics, or even a trimester of pregnancy (nearly).
But what two remarkable women pulled off 125 years ago almost went unknown, if it wasn’t for author Matthew Goodman.
This past Wednesday Goodman presented his national best-seller to a captivated audience in the RBFCU’s Dodge Ballroom.
Published last year, Goodman’s book “Eighty Days” details the incredible journeys of two New York journalists who, in 1889, aimed to outdo the fictional feat of circling “Around the World in 80 Days.”
The historical novel with a narrative feel is truly unbelievable, but all factual, with scrutinous citations to boot.
Using engrossing language and immaculate detail, Goodman recounts the pioneering women’s solo expeditions so vividly it’s as if the reader is there to accompany them. Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, the story’s protagonists, have their determination, conviction and grit dignifiedly honored to the point where turning the pages seems like participating in a virtual reality.
What’s almost as noteworthy as the ladies’ endeavor is Goodman’s fact wrangling and arrangement.
“I lived in the New York Public Library for about two years,” Goodman joked, “and it took about two years to write it.”
He tried to match the story’s merit with effort put forth – a daunting task.
“I really want people to know about these two women from over a hundred years ago who lived such remarkable lives,” Goodman noted.
Likened by their undertaking, Bly and Bisland had staggering differences in their personas.
Nellie Bly was fully-charged with investigative assiduity; she sought to expose the ugliness of humanity that sometimes goes unseen, like the piece where she feigned madness to get an inside look at brutal insane asylum policies, or the piece where she hypothetically vended a baby on the black market to see if there were buyers…there were (and we think weird stuff happens on Craigslist).
Elizabeth Bisland was more of a timid romantic, more inclined to publish poetry or essays. She had a face for the camera but wished not to have her name in the headlines.
Bly pitched the story to her editor, the renowned Joseph Pulitzer, who initially rebuked it; whereas Bisland’s editor, in rebuttal of learning about Bly and the rival newspaper’s plan, told Bisland if she didn’t oblige she’d be fired.
As one can imagine, a 28,000-mile journey generates a lot of anecdotal incidents, and the novel is packed with them.
As they travelled in opposite directions, the women passed through all four seasons, dozens of time zones, a myriad of terrain and a wide range of sociopolitical environments – all well chronicled in Goodman’s writing.
His presentation on campus included a Q-and-A session, an intriguing excerpt that described one of Bisland’s most fearful moments aboard a postal train which set a railroad record for speed, and the backstory on what it took to produce a piece on such an epic exploit (i.e. lots of digging and cross referencing).
“When he read the passage, I really had a panoramic view of what the character was seeing. It was so well phrased, and the description hit on every human sense,” senior student Frankie Anetzberger testified. “For a moment, it was like I was there.”
Simply put, the story of “Eighty Days” is meaningful on multiple levels.
“I think it’s important for people to know that there were women who were challenging social conventions 130 years ago. There were women who were not willing to simply act the way that ‘women were supposed to be acting,’” Goodman said.
“[The book] provides a window into a larger story about what society was like in those days, the idea of changing women’s roles during the Victorian period. They were seeking to change the roles that they were forced into,” the author added.
To find more information on the book “Eighty Days” and Matthew Goodman’s other books, visit MatthewGoodmanBooks.com.