Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Tale of Two Women

Book Review: Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman

The story of not just one, but two historic trips around the world, Eighty Days is much more than a travelogue. In following the two protagonists, Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, in their race around the globe, Matthew Goodman gives us a close-up view of the challenges facing women at the end of the nineteenth century.

Not just ANY two women either. Nelly Bly was a small town American girl, who fought her way into the position of journalist through hard work and determination. Her room in New York was on an unpaved road far from the newspaper offices in Manhattan. "Her grammar was rough, her punctuation erratic", but she persevered.

Elizabeth Bisland also lived in New York; although her apartment was only a few blocks away from Nelly's room in physical distance, it was miles away in social standing. In addition, she was "highly literary, with refined tastes", with a family background to match.

These two women, dissimilar in so many ways, had one thing in common: they had both managed to find their way into that bastion of masculinity, the newsroom. And by "find their way" we mean they persisted in the face of incredible resistance to the very presence of "the weaker sex" in their chosen profession.

Eighty Days is more than the story of two women cutting a path around the world - it is the story of two women from vastly different backgrounds who, each in their own individual way, together cut a path for generations of women to come.