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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The New Colossus by Marshall Goldberg

The New Colossus by Marshall Goldberg.

Nelly Bly was a remarkable woman for her time.  I mean, at 23 she had herself committed to the infamous Bellevue Hospital insane asylum where she endured the horrific treatment of its inmates for ten days. (When Charles Dickens visited the asylum some 40 years earlier, he commented that it aroused his "deep disgust and measureless contempt.")

When the story was published, the psychiatrists who pronounced her insane (her symptoms were of amnesia, not insanity) were humiliated, the public outraged, and an investigation was prompted into the treatment of patients at the asylum.

And then there was the trip around the world in 72 days, a la Jules Verne in 1889.  She circumnavigated the world (and even met up with Jules Verne in Amiens, France) by steamship and train sending dispatches when she could to Joseph's Pulitzer's The New York World --24, 899 miles in 72 days.

But the book is not about these assignments, although the Bellevue Insane Asylum story gets a bit of coverage.  No, the assignment (for the novel) is one that Joseph Pulitzer gives Bly personally:  look into Emma Lazarus' death and discover who killed her.  Pulizer is convinced that Emma was murdered, and she was a friend that he treasured and respected.

Learning more about Emma Lazarus, the respected poet and protege of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was fascinating.  Her main claim to fame is the poem The New Colossus that graces the foot of the Statue of Liberty, but she was so much more than that.

Lazarus became interested in her Jewish heritage and began advocated for the rights of immigrants, especially those Jewish immigrants escaping the pogroms in Russia, meeting them at the docks and helping them avoid the pitfalls of a new world.

Like Nelly Bly, Emma Lazarus was a remarkable woman in many ways, and I'd love to read biographies about these two women.

Other historical tidbits that kept me returning to Google:

Alfred J. Cohen - psuedonym Alan Dale;  author of A Marriage Below Zero, and the most feared drama critic of his time.

Mention of The Comstock Act - which made pornography a crime, but included in its definition of pornography was any discussion of contraception.

Castle Garden  On August 1, 1855, Castle Clinton became the Emigrant Landing Depot, functioning as the New York State immigrant processing facility (the nation's first such entity). It was operated by the state until April 18, 1890,[2] when the Federal Government took over control of immigration processing, which subsequently opened the larger and more isolated Ellis Island facility for that purpose on January 2, 1892.

Joseph SeligmanDuring the American Civil War, Seligman was responsible for aiding the Union by disposing of $200,000,000 in bonds "a feat which W. E. Dodd said was 'scarcely less important than the Battle of Gettysburg'".[2]  

 In 1877, Judge Henry Hilton, the owner of the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, New York, denied entry to Seligman and his family because they were Jews, creating nationwide controversy. It was the first antisemitic incident of its kind in the United States to achieve widespread publicity.

OK--enough.  There are other names and incidents that were interesting (Pulitzer, Jay Gould, Helena deKay Gilder, the financing of the Statue of Liberty through public donations mostly of one dollar or less, Henry Hilton and A.J. Steward and the Missing Corpse, etc.), but I'm tired of going through my bookmark-riddled ebook.

I thought a novel about Nellie Bly would be fascinating.  And in a way, it was, but the novel portion wasn't very good; the fictional parts of the story, the dialogue, the characters were stiff and unwieldy, and actually, pretty dull despite the murder mystery aspect. 

 It would have been nice if Goldberg was better at writing fiction, but he is damn good at writing history.  If he didn't make the fiction live, he made the historical characters live.  

I spent a great deal of time looking things up to see if events happened, and if they did, did the novel deal with them accurately.  And it did!  In fact, I could have saved myself some time, because the author had his own historical notes at the end.

Although the novel part didn't work for me, I'm so glad I read it!

NetGalley/Diversion Books

Historical Fiction.  2014.  Print version:  303 pages.  


  1. Nellie Bly has been one of my absolute favorite women in history since I was a little girl. It's too bad this wasn't a better novel, but I am glad the historical aspects of it stood out. That might make it worth reading alone.

  2. I enjoyed this based on the historic events and characters, but I would like to read more about Nelly Bly--such a fascinating and independent woman!