Tag Archive | true story

BOOK REVIEW: Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

I don’t know what was going on with my Kindle version of this book. The product details gave the print length as 159 pages. I noticed that at some point, it said I was on page 158, but I was about three-quarters of the way through it. Every page after that also said I was on page 158—up until the last. And the more I read, the more I wanted it to end, so, continually finding myself on the final page began to annoy me.

Of course, if you are human and empathetic, what you read in these pages will hurt. It’s not fiction. Well, it was the Victorian era, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Many of us, myself included, romanticize the period, love to hear about it, and live there in fantasy while watching a movie or reading a book, but we don’t always get the reality of how bad things were for women then. People saw them as subhuman.  If a man didn’t like his wife’s behavior, he could say she was insane and drop her off in a mad-house.  No one seemed to care what happened to most of these “patients” after that, many of whom were quite sane—at least when they arrived.

This book wasn’t what I expected, but I had to ask myself, what did I expect?  It sounded as if there would be a lot of drama and chilling suspense, but as a reader, I had to be glad nothing worse happened to Nellie during her undercover investigation of Blackwell Island’s mental illness facility. Not to say it wasn’t bad enough.

Ten Days is not a page-turner riddled with suspense. It’s not an easy read. For the most part, you’re being told, in a somber, wearying way, about the egregious reality of that time.

I found it a little jarring, too, at the end where she began on another mission to assess the predicaments women faced in seeking employment. And, of course, I thought it was over and really wanted it to be over by this point.

It doesn’t seem fair to say these things. The book was well written, and Nellie Bly’s writing style was certainly pleasant enough. She came across as an empathetic narrator, very kind and brave. In writing Ten Days, she did an outstanding service to us all. It was a courageous effort that needed a fearless warrior. She was it.

Further, it was a story that needed telling. Some people today take for granted all that our predecessors fought for and won. We think we don’t need women to stay on top of that, but we do.

I’m glad Nellie Bly wrote this book, and I’m happy I read it. So, kudos to Nellie Bly and a posthumous thank you for a job well done.