Nellie Bly’s exposé into conditions at an asylum for the mentally ill pioneered “immersion journalism”.
In 1887 Bly had herself admitted to The Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. In Ten Days in a Madhouse she shares her experience of diagnosis and incarceration for what was deemed a “mental illness.”
The book is a remarkable insight into the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in New York in 1887 and at the time her work was published it caused considerably controversy. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of psychology, journalism or for anyone looking for some interesting non-fiction.
Bly’s experiences are frightening and disturbing. While incarcerated she meets other apparently sane women who have been confined for reasons such as convalescence from physical illness, poverty and in one case for speaking German and no English. The patients are given nearly inedible food, occasional cold baths and insufficient clothing and heating. Those deemed “dangerous” endure torture from those charged with their care.
Suzie Althens does a fantastic job at distinguishing the variety of characters. Her voicing of Bly is soft spoken and during the stages of deception the voice becomes passive and lacks tone, which is ideal for capturing what it may have been like for Bly trying to convince people she is mentally disturbed. It’s a great performance of what is a very interesting book.
The book has also been made into a film, which is due for release in September 2015. This would be a good time to get in and read the book before seeing the film.
Ten Days in a Madhouse (unabridged audiobook) • by Nellie Bly • read by Suzie Althens • 2 hours 50 mins • published by Audio Books by Mike Vendetti • 2015 • available from Audible.com