I landed on this story a few years ago and couldn’t believe no one had ever fictionalized the ten-day madhouse ordeal of Elizabeth Cochrane, or, as she is better known by her pen name, Nellie Bly.
For those who have heard of Bly, it’s most likely because of her well-publicized travel around the world stunt to beat the record in Jules Verne’s popular Around the World in 80 Days book.
What many likely don’t know is that the story that got Bly famously globetrotting in the first place (it was followed worldwide by thousands of international readers tracking the day-by-day of her journey, not least because a rival paper sent another female the opposite way to beat her time) was her gruesome "Ten Days in a Madhouse" precursor.
It’s the story of a girl before her fame, a girl poised to lose everything, who would risk her safety, her reputation, her health and possibly her life, to get hired in the man’s world of journalism.
And she had no idea what she had agreed to take on until she set foot on remote Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) and it was too late to turn back.
If the rumors were true, it would take a brave soul to enter and learn the secrets lurking behind the asylum’s menacing facade.
Of note: I found in my research that Bly mentions an anonymous male reporter who knew her well and came to visit her at the asylum. It got me thinking: How did he know she was there if she was undercover? Why did she never name him in her story the paper later published? How did she come to meet him in the first place? Hmmm....
That story, the story of Bly and her mysterious visitor, is told in A Feigned Madness too, with plenty of twists and consequences that, I hope, will leave the reader wondering long after the ending.