Book History, Episodes, libraries

24. The Lucky Book of Kells

 

It’s a few days early for St. Patrick’s Day, but The Book Owl just couldn’t wait to share with you the luck of the Irish…or rather, the luck of one of Ireland’s most famous books and how its story weaves together with the history of Trinity College’s Old Library (aka “The Long Room”). It’s a tale of Viking marauding, roofs collapsing…and cow banning.

Mentioned in This Episode….

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The (Rough) Transcript

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore. 

Setting the Mood

It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s windy, and you’re in a tiny boat after fleeing from your peaceful island home that’s just been invaded by one of the most feared groups of the ages. There’s no cover, and you can only hope your boat doesn’t capsize.

And worst of all, you’re in charge of making sure a precious book makes it safely to where it needs to go. A book in which one page alone would have taken weeks to produce.

No pressure or anything.

Intro

Boats? Books? Icky weather? Clearly, we’re preparing to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on the podcast.

Okay, so your St. Patty’s Day festivities may be more beer oriented than book oriented, but I figured the day that celebrates Ireland’s most famous saint, would also be the perfect day to tell you all about Ireland’s most famous library and the most famous book within that library.

And yes, with St Patricks Day still 6 days away, I’m a little early with this but that’s just the way things worked out. And hey, you can always listen to it again on the 17th.

Thank You and Sales Pitch

But before we step through the doors of Trinity College Library to get a peek at the Book of Kells, I just want to offer one quick thank you to everyone who purchased my darkly humorous paranormal mystery tale, The Undead Mr. Tenpenny, since it launched a couple weeks ago. You put a big smile on my face and gave me a nice boost in the Amazon ranking system….for a few days.

And of course, if you didn’t get your copy yet, it’s never too late to pop into that link in the show notes. Oh, and if you did get a copy and you have read it, be sure to leave a review on Bookbub, Goodreads, or wherever you bought it…thanks!

Plans Changed

I initially had planned to make this a two part celebration with one episode dedicated to Trinity College Library and another dedicated to the Book Of Kells, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of information on the library, which I found really odd. So what I’m going to do instead is blend the two histories of these two topics until they come together in a nice little bookish mesh.

Well, that’s the plan, anyway.

Oh, and one more thing before we start, I know, long intro, sorry. Over on Instagram, I’m not only celebrating all things Irish, but also coping with being unable to travel by sharing a picture from my trips to Ireland every day in March. So, if you’re on instagram be sure to follow along! 

Okay can we start this damn episode, already?

A Little Explanation

Now for those of you who don’t know, The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript. And no that doesn’t mean it comes with a nightlight. “Illuminated” in this case means decorated with drawings or dolled up with fancy capitals. These were typically religious texts and would have been created on calf vellum by scribes literally working their fingers to the bone.

And for the numbers people out there, The Book of Kells itself measures 33 cm tall by 25 cm wide, or 13 inches by 10 inches. And inside there’s currently 680 pages of illustrations that include some Christian iconography, but also curious Celtic animals and knots, and elaborate interlaced borders. Oh yeah, and there’s text too, which consists of the four gospels as well as some other religious essays. 

Research has figured out that the Book of Kells was created sometime in the late 800s to early 900s. Based on the handwriting and the style of the images has shown that the book was likely filled in by three artists and four scribes.

And that research also shows they used pigments such as red and yellow ochre, oak gall for black, and woad for purple. But they were also using lead and arsenic, so probably not a long-term career being a scribe.

But onto the history, and for that we have to go back even further to the 500s. 

St. Colmcille Hates Cows

So in 521 common era a guy is born to the royal Niall family of Ireland. A few years later, he’s grown into a bit of troublemaker so he takes a copy of the gospels. The church asks for it back, he refuses, and a big old battle ensues. Now, the Niall family didn’t gain power by being friendly and altruistic. They were warriors. As such, they won the battle and loads of people died.

The guy feels bad for so many people dying for his foolishness so he undergoes a form of self-penance and leaves Ireland. He eventually ends up on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland where he founds an abbey. And this guy becomes known as St. Colmcille, or St. Columba if you want to Anglicize things.

And for as tiny as this island is, it’s barely 3 miles long by a mile wide, it becomes a huge religious center, St. Colmcille becomes super important, and Iona becomes a site of pilgrimage as well as the burial place of 60 kings from Scotland, ireland, and Norway.

And just as a funny side note, Colmcille had some strange convictions. See, at the time, there were mied religious houses, so nuns and monks would share the same residence, and if I remember right, they might even marry. Well, Colmcille was having none of it and wouldn’t even allow the wives of the men building his monastery to stay on the island. He also banned cows. Why cows and women? Because he said wherever there are cows there are women, and wherever there are women, there is mischief. Which is true.

Of course he also banned frogs and snakes from the island, but it’s an island in northern Scotland so I’m wondering how many there were to begin with.

Anyway, back to the story. St. Colmcille dies in 597, and it’s thought the Book of Kells might have been started in honor of the 200th anniversary of his death. And it was started on Iona.

Notice I said it was started there.

The Vikings Arrive

Because right around this time there were these pesky mustachioed fellows roaming the seas, popping onto shore and raping and pillaging treasure.

The monks of Iona either got some warning the Vikings were coming, or managed a lucky escape before the Vikings got to their treasure, because they sent a handful of their brothers in a small boat with the relics of St. Colmcille and the illuminated manuscript they’d begun.

A few relics were lost, but the boat and the book eventually make it to the abbey at Kells in Ireland.

And it’s in Kells where the book is finished, and is why it’s known as the Book of Kells.

Losing It

So fast forward another couple hundred-ish years and for the first time the book is mentioned in the Annals of Ulster. It’s the 11th century and the reason its noted down is because it got stolen. Yeah, you know someone got in trouble for that one.

Why would someone steal a book? Especially in a time when so many people were illiterate? Because these illuminated manuscripts weren’t sitting around for people to thumb through. There were part of religious ceremonies and often kept in fancy cases in or near the high altar. And the Book of Kells’s case was made of gold.

That’s what the thieves were after. Which is a lucky thing, because it appears they took the case, then discarded the book, which was found (I don’t know exalt how long after) buried in the dirt with its case missing. This did do some damage to the book, including losing several pages, but for the thing to have survived at all is crazy lucky.

Quick Jump Through History

Okay big history jump again. This time to 1592 when Queen Elizabeth decides to build a university in Dublin. Then Lizzie dies, we go through a few kings, and then Oliver Cromwell goes right through the neck of Charles I. Crowell then brings his forces to Ireland. And I won’t go into all the history, but this guy had some serious anger issues.

He ends up in Kells in 1653/54, destroys most of the abbey the Book of Kells was kept in, and turns the church into a stable for his horses. Luckily, again this is a very lucky book, the church folks had gotten the Book of Kells out of there before his arrival and to the safety of Dublin Castle. And in 1661 Henry Jones, who then becomes Bishop of Meath once Crowell is taken care of and King Charles II is in power, presents the Book of Kells to Trinity College where it’s found a happy home ever since.

The Library

So in 1712, the library of Trinity College was begun. It would take 20 years before what is known as the Old Library or the Long Room would open. And it’s not because they were being careful architects that this took so long. They actually ran out of money soon into the project. In the end it ended up costing 20,000 pounds, which is about 1.4 million pounds today, or around $2million. And the library opened with 25,000 books to fill its shelves.

In 1801 Trinity College Library was made a legal deposit, which means it receives one copy of every book published in Ireland and the UK. And if that sounds familiar, The British Library, which I talked about way back in Episode 7, is also a legal deposit. 

So, this is great, right? It establishes the library really is legit. Well, the problem was the library wasn’t built for all the books that were now flooding in. See, the original library was built with a flat-ish roof and with book cases all along its length and walls. Well the weight of all those books started pushing the walls of the library outward and the ceiling by was about to collapse.

Thankfully, smarty pants came in and by 1861 had redesigned the Old Library to have an upper gallery and a weight bearing vaulted ceiling, making it look like, as some people say, a cathedral of books. On the shelves are 200,000 of the library’s oldest books, there’s also marble busts of famous authors and other literary sorts, a Celtic harp that was supposed to have belonged to Brian Boru (it didn’t), and one of the few realigning copies of the 1916 Easter Proclamation that insisted on Ireland’s independence form the UK and was read in front of the General Post Office. 

And again, for you numbers lovers, the Long Room is 65 meters long, and that’s 215 feet for the non-metric folks out there. And it’s this Long Room that you’ll likely see if you look up Trinity College Library, but the library itself is still a working library where people can go to do research and make use of the collection of texts.

On Display

It’s also right about the time the Old Library was redesigned that the Book of Kells goes on display to the public. 

And as a personal note, I have visited the Trinity Library and the Book of Kells…and unfortunately, the page it was turned to on the day I was there was almost all text and not very impressive. The manuscripts at the Chester Beatty Museum, which I talked about in episode 11, were far more ooh and ahh inspiring. 

Now, I can’t complain too much because I did get in for free (because I know people), but If I had to pay the 15 euro or whatever it is to get in, I’d have been annoyingly disappointed. However, the Long Room was even better than I expected, so I guess that balances it out a bit.

Still, if we’re ever allowed to travel again and you do get to Dublin, and you want to see gorgeous illuminated manuscripts, I’d say to try the Chester Beatty first, then do Trinity College Library if you have the time and money….unless you know people. There’s also another way to get in for free, which I also did, but it’s not exactly legal, so I won’t tell you.

Wrapping Up

I think that’s all I have for Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells. If you want to see some pages from the book and some images of the library, I’ll put a link in the show notes for Trinity College Library. They also have a couple virtual exhibitions on there that are a great way to procrastinate for a bit.

Updates

And now it’s the time for updates. The podcast is plugging along. The show is nearly a year old, which means I need to start making some decisions. The website and domain name will expire in one more year, so as 2021 progress, I’ll need to ponder over whether to keep the show running, or to turn off the mic on this little project. This show does take a long time to put together and I’m not sure what exactly I’m getting from it, other than some interesting research, so…

As for writing, I’m done with The Uncanny Raven Winston Book Two of The Cassie Black Trilogy. Hoorah! It is on pre-order and comes out on 13 April and I’ll be sending it to my review team soon to see what they think. 

And I have to say, this was such a fun book to write because much of it takes place in London, and so it was a great way to travel to one of my favorite cities during lockdown. And Book Three, The Untangled Cassie Black just needs a couple more read throughs. That one is also on pre-order and comes out 18 May, and it’s going to feel a little weird to have this trilogy done and dusted.

Outro

Okay my book loving friends, that is it. If you enjoyed the show, you can either show your support by purchasing one of my books (links in the show notes) or by simply telling one other person about the show. And with that I will hoot at you next time.

Credits

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2021, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com. Video creation by Headliner.app

Book History, Episodes

22. The Devil’s in the Details

 

Back in the day, even printing a Bible required getting in league with the devil…printer devils, that is. Discover the legends and lores in this re-released and re-mastered version of a Book Owl classic…you know, back when I was beyond nervous when facing the microphone!

(This is a re-release of Episode 2 – Making a Deal with the Devil). There’s a new intro and the audio has been re-processed.)

Like what you hear?

The (Rough) Transcript

New Intro

(Not transcribed, but let’s just say I’ve been drowning in writing chores and didn’t have time to research, write, record, and edit a new episode this week. I will be back in a couple weeks with a new episode – hopefully – and a special announcement.)

Old Intro

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

So, these days you can click a button and have most any book printed on demand and in your hands in days, but it wasn’t always so quick and easy. And no, I’m not referring tot the days when you actually had to get off your butt and go to the bookstore and buy a book.

It wasn’t all that long ago that took a lot of effort to make a book. In fact, if you wanted a book printed you might even have had to make a deal with the devil….even if that book was a bible.

Sponsor Break

Before we delve into this devilish episode it’s time for a tiny sponsor break. I know, I know, no one likes ads, but this will be quick and painless. Podcasts aren’t the cheapest things to run. There’s hosting costs, equipment, and let me tell you, they take a lot of time. So, if you like what you’re hearing and if you’re able to, you can show your appreciation and support the podcast by visiting the book owl podcast dot com slash support where you’ll find several super inexpensive ways to help keep the show running.

Okay, that wasn’t so bad, was it. Now, let’s get on with the show and the devil really is in the details with this one.

How to Print a Book…Back in the Day

So even though we’re talking about devils, there’s no need to fear for your immortal soul (unless you’ve been very naughty). See back in the day, if you wanted a book or a newspaper, you had no choice…you had to get in league with the devil…a printer’s devil to be exact.

Of course the printing press is an invention worshipped by book nerds and we’ll explore it’s story some other time, but for now just know that up until relatively recently to make a book or newspaper, every single letter and every single space or punctuation mark on every single printed page had to arranged by a human hand…a very deft human hadn’t at that.

Okay, that’s bad enough to imagine, but not only did these someones have to lay down the letters of every word, they also had to do it in reverse so the words once printed would read correctly. So anyone out there complaining about how tricky it can be to format a document in Word, believe me, you’ve got nothing to complain about.

Ooh, Devils!!!

Anyway, as you can imagine, the work of a printer and typesetter was tedious, labor intensive work. But that work would be made a tiny bit easier if you had an assistant. And that assistant was called a printer’s devil.

This was usually a young boy, possibly an apprentice, whose main tasks would be to mix the ink and to fetch the letters as needed and to put the used letters back in the right place. And even though it’s highly likely that there were some serious child labor laws being broken, this wasn’t unskilled labor because these kids had to be somewhat literate in order to fetch the correct letter. Think about it, if you’re typesetting a word like SHOT you certainly don’t want some illiterate rapscallion mixing up your O’s and your I’s.

And there were some famous little devils, including Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and John Kellogg (yes, Mr Cornflakes and healthy living himself).

What’s in a Demonic Name, Part One

Alright none who can remember their grade school days on the playground know that little boys can be hellions, but why were these particular lads called devils?

There’s actually no clear answer on this, which of course means a slew of tales have sprouted up to answer it. Some of the tales are downright dull, while others have a wonderful dose of embellishment to them.

So the most boring explanation says that the fingers of these boys would be stained black from the ink. Since Satan is the lord of darkness, the dark fingers lead people to call the kids devils. Told you that was boring. Also, I would imagine the typesetters themselves had stained fingers as well, so the explanation also falls flat on my logic meter.

What’s in a Demonic Name, Part Two

The second tale is slightly more interesting and provides a nice little play on words. Okay, so the little letters that had to be arranged were cast onto tiny pieces metal. If you’ve seen how small the print is on old timey newspapers, you’ll get an idea of just how tiny those metal pieces were.

Anyway, this metal wasn’t titanium or anything and after so many uses the raised letters would wear down and anything printed using those letters would make the reader wonder if they’d developed sudden onset glaucoma.

Instead of tormenting their customers with having to needlessly visit the eye doctor, although that could have been a good side swindle, the worn type was tossed into a box so the metal could be melted down and re-cast. That box was called a hellbox and since it was these kids tossing things into the hellbox, they earned the name devils.

What’s in a Demonic Name, Part Three (My Favorite)

That’s not a bad behind the name story, but possibly my favorite one even though it’s a bit of a stretch starts with a partnership gone bad.

So Mr Printing Press himself, Johannes Gutenberg, had a business partner named Johann FUST – and no, I don’t know if you were required to be named John to work in the printing business. After his invention started revolutionizing the world, Big G started getting a big head. FUST got annoyed with Gutenberg’s attitude so he up and left one day. And he didn’t leave empty handed…he took all the machinery.

Right around this time the French court of Louis XI needed some new bibles. FUST nabbed up the commission. He also nabbed a fair amount of extra money for this commission because he told the king and all the king’s men that the bibles would be hand copied. This was how books were made before the printing press, and because it took a lot more work, it raised the price of each book.

After a reasonable amount of time FUST delivered the books…probably with a guilty twitch to his ink-stained fingers.

So, you know how when you come home with new books from the library or bookstore and you have to thumb through all of them? Well, Louis who must have a huge book nerd, did the same thing. As he was flipping and enjoying that new book smell, Louis noticed all the bibles were eerily similar. Too similar. After all, hand copying is often accompanied with transcription errors, ink blotches, and other problems.

But all these bibles were the exact same.

Now you’re probably thinking an advisor should go up to Louis and say that, “Hey we got this guy FUST who used to work with that printer guy Gutenberg, maybe he printed these bibles.” But that didn’t happen. I mean, this was the king after all and you don’t go around telling the king he got duped. So, the only excuse for such perfection had to have been that the devil had his hand in the bibles’ creation. FUST who might have only been accused of fraud ended up being jailed for witchcraft…and I bet Gutenberg was laughing the whole time.

Anyway, in a very roundabout way, this supposedly led to the term printer’s devils.

What’s in a Demonic Name, Part Four (The Most Logical)

There’s a fourth and final story, one that combines legend with logic, and to me this one makes the most sense.

When printing presses started to spread out across Europe the printers decided they needed their own patron demon ( because, who doesn’t, right?). His name was Titivillus. This wasn’t a newbie on the demon block. He’d been the patron demon of scribes and was the go-to demon to blame when a scribe made a mistake in his manuscript copying. Talk about blame shifting.

In the printing world, Titivillus was a trickster who would sneak in and, when no one was looking, rearrange the type leading to misspelled words…which is an excuse I’m going to start using in my own books and newsletters! Since the assistants were the ones bringing the letters, those kids must be in league with this demon and therefore they earned the name of printers devils.

Not bad, right?

Exorcists Need Not Apply

Anyway, wherever their name came from, printers devils were hard working little lads well into the early 1900s. As different methods of setting type and more efficient ways of printing evolved, the need for devils declined and soon devils were gone from the print shop altogether.

And not one single exorcist was needed.

You Want One More, Don’t You?

So that’s it for printer’s devils. Or is it? With every episode I provide my newsletter recipients some extra tidbit related to the show. And with this episode, they’ll be getting one more printer devil story straight from 1960s television. If you’re not already part of the flock, sign up for The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter at the book owl podcast dot com slash contact.

Update Time

Okay, one quick update to wrap things up. When I was first planning out this podcast, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my favorite shows and release episodes every single week. Now, if you saw the list of topics I’ve got jotted down in Ye Olde Podcast Notebook, you’d know I have plenty of material to do just that. What I don’t have is the time.

My primary focus, shall we say my day job, is writing and to keep churning out books, I’d basically have to give up on sleeping, eating, and cleaning out the guinea pig cages to be able to write, record, and edit a podcast episode every week. Hopefully, once I get the hang of all this podcasting busy work, I’ll be able to do weekly shows, but for now and probably for at least the first couple months, I’m going to keep myself from going bonkers by only doing biweekly shows which will appear every other Thursday.

Thanks and See You Later

Thanks for listening everyone. If you enjoyed this episode I’d love it if you could leave a review or simply tell someone about the show. If you do want to leave a review, you can do that in your favorite podcast app or on Podchaser, the IMDB of podcasts and I’ll toss a link to that in the show notes. Or, feel free to email me at the book owl podcast dot com slash contact. And, like I said, if you want to get even more out of each episode, be sure to subscribe to the book owl podcast newsletter on that same page.

Again, thanks for listening and I will hoot at you next time!

Credits

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, copyright 2021 all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Book History, Episodes

18. Have Book, Will Time Travel

 

Tuesday, the 8th of December, was Pretend to be a Time Traveller Day. Don’t ask me what in the world that is supposed to mean or what kind of presents it involves, but so far, science has let us down with its inability to come up with a time machine. Which means the best we can do is to open the pages of a book and journey along through time with the author’s imagination.

Please note: There is a little jumble in the info at the start. I talk about several stories that send the hero into the future, then I talk about a story that sends the hero into the past, then I say something like  “it seems authors were focussed only on sending people into the future.” Sigh, what can I say, it’s been a long year. So, apologies for any confusion.  

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

 

Have Book, Will Time Travel (Rough Transcript)

Introduction

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

And this time we’re getting in our way back machines. Or maybe our way forward machines? Either way we’re traveling through time because Tuesday, the 8th of December, was Pretend to be a Time Traveller Day.

Don’t ask me what in the world that is supposed to mean or what kind of presents it involves, but I’m sure Doc Brown and Marty McFly could clue you in.

The Icky Part I Have to Do…

Before we start, just a reminder that this show is supported by you. Of course, since we’re speaking about time travel, you could use the fast forward feature on your podcast app to time travel past this part, but I’ll try to make this quick.

There are a ton of ways you can support the show and most are super inexpensive, including, as I mentioned last time, just doing your normal Amazon shopping through the Amazon affiliate link you’ll find on TheBookOwlPodcast.com/support. You don’t get charged any extra but every time you shop, I get an itty bitty commission that helps contribute to the time I spend bringing you these tidbits of entertainment.

And since it’s gift-giving season, also on that page you’ll find some snazzy Book Owl merchandise. I’ll admit some of these items are quite costly and I don’t earn much commission from them, but if you’re looking for something unique to treat yourself this holiday season, there’s notebooks, stickers, and t-shirts.

Intro Part Two Because Once Isn’t Enough

Okay, enough of that, let’s get time traveling. Or more accurately, let’s look at time travel in fiction throughout the ages. See, it’s sort of time traveling.

I think we’d all agree if we’d known what 2020 was going to involve a time travel machine would have been a well appreciated 2019 Christmas present so we could just skip over the year.

But so far, science has let us down with its inability to come up with a time machine. Which means the best we can do is to open the pages of a book and journey along through time with the author’s imagination.

Mythology Meets Physics

It turns out the concept of time travel stories aren’t anything new. Hindu mythology includes what might be recognized as the oldest time travel tale. In this story  the king travels to meet the creator god Brahma for I don’t know, maybe a nice chat and a cup of chai? Whatever his reason for going, when the king returns he finds out decades have whizzed by in his absence.

Which, if you know anything about physics, isn’t too far off the mark. Assuming Brahma lived in the sky or on top of a very high mountain, science does show that time moves more slowly for people who are under less gravity. So someone up in a spaceship actually ages less than someone on Earth. It’s a fascinating discovery, albeit an absolutely creepy one, and it has been proven using really accurate timepieces.

But this isn’t the Physics Owl Podcast, so let’s get back to the fictional side of time travel.

Japanese Sea Monkeys?

Moving up the ages and shifting over a few thousand miles to the east, we get a collection of fairy tales from Japan that dates to around 750 CE. One of these bedtime stories tells of a fisherman who decides catching fish isn’t how he wants to spend his weekend, so he heads underwater to hang out in a sea palace. And yes, this had me picturing a scene from a Sea Monkeys ad.

The fisherman hangs out with the Sea Monkeys for a few days, but when he returns to the surface, after he takes a big gulp of fresh air, he finds out he’s been transported 300 years in the future. And I hope he enjoyed his time in the sea palace because obviously by this time no one knows who he is, he’s lost his boat, and all of his family have died. Which does make this a pretty miserable fairy tale, so maybe we should move on.

Sleepy Head Time Travel

So while the idea of playing loose with time isn’t anything new, it does take a while for technology to catch up with time travel. Even though machines were already making their way into our lives and changing them sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, these machines take a long time to work their way into fiction.

And rather than jumping into a machine, we find a lot of earlier time wandering tales involves someone falling asleep and waking up in the future. Which makes me wonder if you force yourself to stay awake will you go back in time? Think about it.

Anyway some of these sleepy stories include Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving from 1819 , Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy from 1888, and The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells who we’ll be returning to soon enough.

Ow, My Head!

Similar to the sleepy head version of time travel, is the conked on the head method of time travel. And probably one of the most humorous and famliar examples of this in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

There’s a lot going on in this simple tale, but the title pretty much sums it up. A man from Connecticut, Hank Morgan, gets hit on the head and this sends him back in time to King Arthur. Hank gets captured by one of Arthur’s knights, then uses his knowledge of the high tech world of 1889 to convince everyone he’s a magician and that it would be a really bad idea to kill him.

Hank tries to make things better for King Arthur and even tries to prevent Arthur from being killed, but no luck. And while this story was well-received in the US, in England they saw it as an attack on the institution of the monarchy.

Take Me Back

So, from these examples it would kind of seem that most writers were obsessed with getting a glimpse into the future, but a few, and some of the earliest time travel stories in English have our travelers going back in time.

These include the short story Missing One’s Coach: An Anachronism, and this was written anonymously in 1838 for the Dublin Literary Magazine. In it our hero waits under a tree for a coach to show up and falls asleep. When he wakes find himself roaming around in the 9th century. He tries to tell people about the future and a few believe him, but most thinks he’s a bit doodalalee.

Another early example of backward time travel comes from Paris avant les hommes (Paris before Men) written in 1861 by the French botanist and geologist Pierre Boitard, although it wasn’t published until after his death which is too bad for him because it turned out to be a pretty popular story. In this story, we finally see someone time traveling without falling asleep or receiving a head injury. Instead a magic demon sends the main character  into prehistoric times where he hangs out with dinosaurs. Maybe the precursor to Jurassic Park.

Twenty years later we get “Hands Off by Edward Everett Hale in which the main character goes back to Ancient Egypt and tries to change Biblical history by keeping Joseph from being enslaved by the pharaoh. And while this is one of a few stories of someone going back rather than forward in time, it’s also quite likely the first time travel book where the character’s interference alters history.  

A Little Back and Forth

But why stick with the past or the future? Can’t we have both? Yep, and Charles Dickens was ready to deliver this…well, sort of. His A Christmas Carol published in 1843, does take old Ebenezer back in time, but it’s not as if he can do anything while he’s there. It’s merely a memory the ghost of Xmas past is forcing him to remember.

And if memory is time traveling, I guess I’ll time travel back to a really tasty sandwich I had in Strasbourg last fall. But Ebenezer does the travel to the future. Or at least a potential future and it’s this potential future that is one of the key themes of time travel fiction.

As Scrooge says after seeing the dismal fate the ghost of Xmas yet to come has shown him “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me….Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”

And yay, Tiny Tim lives happily ever after. Oh, I hope that wasn’t a spoiler for anyone.

The Rise of the Machines

But most of us, when we think of time travel probably aren’t thinking of naps, blows to the head, or creepy ghosts hanging out in our bedrooms. We have an image in mind of a machine like some strange chamber or a souped up Delorean, that moves our hero through time.

And while HG Wells’s Time Machine probably is the first thing that springs to mind, he wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of a manmade object making a mess of the world’s timeline.

In fact, we start out not with a large machine you step into, but with The Clock That Went Backward a story from 1881 by Edward Page Mitchell. Moving the hands of the clock shifted time. But unless you can open up the grandfather cook and step inside, it’s still not what we think of as a time machine, is it?

Finally in 1887 we get Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau’s El Anacronópete which is touted at the first story to have a true machine purpose built for time travel. It’s a huge iron box that’s like something straight out a steampunk novel with pneumatic tubes that are driven by electricity.

And weirdly enough, inside the machine are brooms that sweep themselves. Oh wait! Isn’t that a roomba! Anyway, all is going well as the voyagers visit various eras in the past, until it self destructs when they try to go to the day of creation.

Finally We Get to THE Time Machine

But of course, although there were predecessors the book that really stirred up the popularity of the time machine was HG Wells’s The Time Machine. This wasn’t Wells only foray into wandering around in time. Before this he’d written “The Chronic Argonauts” in 1888. Wells had thought of turning this story into something else, but wasn’t quite sure what exactly.

Then his publisher asked to see a serial novel based on time travel. Wells didn’t hesitate a moment to jump on the idea. The fact that the publisher was offering him the equivalent of 12K pounds in today’s money probably didn’t make the decision too tough to make.

In The Time Machine, the narrator is relating lectures about a man who traveled to the future and discovered a race of people who seemed happy and living the good life without having to work very hard, but then realizes it’s because another race of people have been forced to toil underground to keep everything running smoothly.

And much of the inspiration came from Wells own childhood where he and his family and the people they knew worked their fingers to the bone below stairs or literally underground in mines.

Time Travel Travel

But egad, that’s a bit depressing isn’t it? So let’s wrap up time travel on a happier note and that’s a subgenre of the time travel concept…Time tourism. Think about it. How many of us would love to take a time tour anywhere that isn’t 2020?

In 1948 American authors Catherine L. Moore and Henry Kuttner wrote the novella Vintage Season in which visitors from the future vacation at a rental home just when the owner wants to sell. The visitors like his place so much they tell heirs friends all about the quaint little place.

Then there’s Ray Bradbury’s 1952 Season of Thunder (season being a popular title, I guess) in which big game hunters get bored with killing off rhinos, lions, and elephants, and decide to time travel to the age of dinosaurs. I mean, go big or go home right?

Time Goes On

Anyway, the time travel genre started strong and continues to thrive today in books like Stephen King’s 11/22/63 when a man has to decide whether stopping the assassination of JFK is worth losing the love of his life.

There’s Diane Galbaldon’s Outlander series with men in kilts. Lots of kilts. And a woman who never seems for a moment phased by the fact she’s gone back a couple hundred years in time.

Michael Crichton brought the past to life with Jurassic Park, but he also took us back in time using some really amazing science research in his book Timeline.

And of course, we can’t leave off without Douglas Adams’ Hithchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series where the most sought after dining establishment is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe which is called Millways. Milliways is the nearest restaurant in space but not time, and is a five star restaurant situated at the end of time and matter.

As with anything in the Hitchhiker’s series it’s a hilarious concept, especially how you make reservations and raise the money to pay for a meal there, but if you do as describe you can watch the universe end night after night while enjoying your Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

Update Time

And that is it for time travel so that must mean it’s time for your favorite…updates! The podcast is still plugging along. Another big thanks goes out to Tierney of TierneyCreates.com for including The Book Owl’s history of cookbook episode as part of her Thanksgiving celebrations.

Other than that, my next episode will be a little bit different. One tagline for this podcast is everything books minus the reviews, but just to wrap up the year I’m going o share with you my favorite books of 2020, a year when many of us got more than our fair share of reading in.

As for writing, as I mentioned last time, I put in the order for my proof copies of the first two books of my Cassie Black trilogy. Well, they showed up the day after Thanksgiving and they came out pretty darn good. There’s still a little tweaking to do on the covers, but the interior looks great. This month, I’ll give the first book yet another read through while also doing a full rewrite on book three.

And just in case you like to do a little shopping for yourself, all three books are currently on pre-order on most retailers. Unfortunately, you can’t pre-order the paperbacks, but I usually release those just a few days ahead of the ebook release date just to make sure everything goes through on time. I’ll keep you posted on when those are live on the stores.

Signing Off

Okay my time traveling buddies, that is it for this episode. Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.   

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved. Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Book History, Episodes

17. Cooking Up Something Good

 

Happy Thanksgiving to my American listeners!

Because Thanksgiving is THE holiday where food takes center stage, I bet there’s more than a few of you out there reaching for a cookbook this week. Which is why The Book Owl went into research mode to discover the history of cookbooks.

From rotting meat to imaginary friends, it’s a recipe for concocting a great episode. And, there’s even a special guest who tried to take over the show.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

Cooking Up Something Good (Rough Transcript)

Introduction:

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

And let me offer up a very Happy Thanksgiving to my listeners in the U.S. I hope everyone is keeping their distance and that you’ve got a plan in place for all that leftover turkey.

Because Thanksgiving is a holiday all about food and especially food we don’t normally cook — seriously, at what other point in the year do you suddenly think, “OMG, I just HAVE to make cranberry sauce?” — I thought this would be an excellent time to explore a type of book many Americans will be cracking open this Thursday.

The Part Where I Ask You to Go Shopping

But before we start, just a quick reminder that you help keep this show running. I need to offer up a very belated thank you to LaVelle for being a continued sponsor of the show with her monthly gift. 

Unless you’re feeling especially flush with money, there’s no need for you to be quite so generous, but I want to remind you that you can help the show out by doing nothing more than the normal shopping you plan to do on Amazon this holiday season. 

Any time you feel the itch to purchase a pack of dog food, a new pair of yoga pants, or a book that you intend to give as a gift but end up keeping for yourself, before you start shopping please head to the book owl podcast dot com slash support and use the Amazon link on that page to do your shopping.

That’s an affiliate link and it does not cost you anything extra, but does earn me an itty bitty commission that really does add up.

What? Another Introduction? Fine…

Okay, enough of that. So, if you’re going to be in the kitchen this week, I bet at some point you’re going to be reaching for a cookbook of some sort. Which had me curious about the history of these most valuable kitchen tools.

Well, okay, the electric kettle that keeps me fueled with tea is the most valuable in my opinion, but you know, cookbooks, second most valuable.

The Oldest Cookbook…and Recipe Success

It turns out the oldest cookbook, or at least the oldest one that’s been discovered, dates from 1700 BCE and has no pages. Wait, let me clarify. It’s actually a collection of a handful of recipes on a series of four clay tablets that are part of what’s known as the Yale Tablets.

And no, they weren’t unearthed in Yale, they’re called that because they’re housed in the Yale Peabody Museum as part of the Yale Babylonian Collection. Lot of Yales going on there.

Anyway, the main recipe on these tablets is a meat stew that contains meat, obviously, vinegar, and herbs, and is said to resemble a stew that was so adored by kings, it ended up being written about in stories for over 300 years.

And just like finding an interesting recipe in a magazine, some researcher said, “Hey, let’s give this a try.” So in 2018, a few brave folks from New York University recreated the stew as best they could with modern equivalents of the ingredients.

The result? Turns out it was pretty darn tasty. And I’ll include a link to their experiment in the show notes.

Cooking Up Food Poisoning In Ancient Rome

So moving up about 1800 years, we get to the first century CE and we find the earliest European cookbook, the De re coquinaria. And I’m no Latin scholar, but I think that translates to from the king’s kitchen. An if there is a Latin scholar to there, please let me know if that’s right or wrong. 

Anyway, this book was supposedly compiled by the Roman Marcus Gavius Apicius, and he was the celebrity gourmand of the day. And he and his book were so influential, any collection of recipes came to be known as an Apicius for decades to come. 

Now, in Ancient Rome the goal of cooking, what chefs gained fame for was being able to take your main food item and flavoring it and covering it up so much you could not tell what you were eating.

This wasn’t because Romans loved eating the Surprise du Jour. It was because, well, how do I put this? They didn’t exactly have refrigerators and they weren’t exactly bringing in fresh meat every day.

And I really hope this isn’t familiar to you, especially today, but the cooks had to do everything they could to hide the taste of the rotting meat they were serving up. Yum.

Chinese Cookery Classic

Stepping away from Europe for just a bit and jumping forward again in time (I know, you haven’t travelled this much in months, have you?). We’re popping over to China where there are reports of cookbooks dating all the way back to the Tang Dynasty, which was extended from the years 600 to 900, but some pesky person lost it. Or maybe spilled soy sauce all over it. 

Either way, the earliest surviving Chinese cookbook dates from about 1330, and I’m not going to attempt the Chinese name for the book, but in English it translates to the name Important Principles of Food and Drink. And I really hope the recipes inside weren’t as bland as that title.

Germans Love Their Cookbooks

Okay, zipping back over to Europe, we find medieval Germans really liked to cook. Or at least they really liked cookbooks, because it’s here we find the most cookery manuscripts. These include Das buch von guten spise, or the Book of Good Food from 1350.

And probably no surprise, but the Germans were also the first to employ our friend the printing press to publish a cookbook in 1485, with the name Kuchenmeysterey, or Kitchen Mastery. Which has a rather modern marketing ring to it.

A Cookbook for the Average Householder

Again, no surprise, but the French also had a few cookbooks on their shelves. And like most of the other cookbooks I’m talking about from this time period, these were all intended for chefs who were cooking for the highest levels of society, including the king. For example, the earliest French cookbook we have was written in the 14th century by Guillaume Tirel, the master chef for not one, but two French kings. 

But we have a little rebel in France, and as far as I could tell, this might be the earliest cookbook written for common people, or rather for women making food for their families. This was La Menagier de Paris, or the Householder of Paris, and was written by a middle class Parisian for other middle class Parisians.

Curry? Did Someone Say Curry? The First English Cookbook

Of course, there were also cookbooks from Italy, Spain, the Middle East, India, but since I’m a self-centered English speaker, let’s head back up to England where we’ll find the first cookbook written in English. It dates from 1390 and was penned by the chef of King Richard II, and had the intriguing title Forme of Cury.

And now I really want some curry, but I think a cure referred to any type of stew, so there’s probably not a spicy vindaloo amongst the pages.

Printing Press By-product: The Celebrity Chef Begins

So as I mentioned earlier, the Germans were the first to crank out a cookbook from the printing press. And this kicked off a wave of cookbook publishing in the 1600s when we see a huge profusion of books coming out for household management and food preparation. 

And you’re going to need that advice because right around this time, especially in Holland and England, it becomes quite the thing to see who amongst your ritzy friends can throw the most lavish banquets. This is when we really start seeing food preparation being turned into an art form — and let’s be honest, that artwork is probably still being used to cover up the taste and smell of meat that’s gone off. 

And as is still happening today, chefs start becoming celebrities. Households fight over hiring the most renowned cooks and the chefs themselves start competing pretty viciously with each other to see who can write the most popular cook book. Which sounds like the set up for an amazing historical novel full of bitchy backstabbing.

Coming to America

But enough of Europe, let’s hop the pond over to America where we find Amelia Simmons in 1796 writing the book American Cookery, which she declared was “adapted to this country and all grades of life.”

And as the article from Book Riot I used as apart of my research snarkily notes, there weren’t a lot of grades of life who could afford to purchase cookbooks so this was probably intended mainly for the upper class. But the book did manage to stay in publication for 30 years.

What’s a White Lady to Do?

Also in that article which I’ll link to in the show notes I found an interesting correlation between the American Civil War and the rise of cookbooks in the American South. See, most middle and upper class households had um, shall we say, free labor running their kitchens. 

When slavery was abolished and the freed people said, “I’m outta here,” the white ladies were kind of left in the lurch. And some of them could probably still hire cooks, whether those cooks were black or white — and that hired help was probably mostly black, if we’re being realistic. 

But many other former slave owners had lost their free labor which also meant they lost a cheap way to make gobs of money which also meant they were left to do their own cooking. Well, after years of being tended to by unpaid servants, these white ladies had little idea what to do in the kitchen. 

Luckily, one of the books that appeared was written by Malinda Russell, a freed slave who, in her book used the euphemism that she was an experienced cook. And her recipes start to show a pattern in presentation that would continue to evolve, including putting a list of the ingredients at the start of the recipe. Unfortunately, the amount of those ingredients still required a fair bit of guesswork.

Brussels Sprouts and Measuring Spoons!

It’s not until 1845, when with the release of Modern Cooking for Private Families by Eliza Acton that we get not only a book written entirely for the home cook, but we also get the format we know today with the list of ingredients, the full instructions of what to do with those ingredients, and precise cooking times.

It also, as a little side fun fact, was the first book in the U.S. to have a recipes for Brussels sprouts.

But while Eliza’s book had plenty of information, it could still be a bit vague. Because there were no standardized tools, cookbooks at the time didn’t exactly pinpoint exact amounts or temperatures. For example, one book told people to heat water until it was a little warmer than the temperature of milk coming straight from the cow. Which has me picturing some poor woman running back and forth from her stove to the barn to keep checking on things.

It’s not until the early 20th century before we start seeing more precise recipes. And that’s because we finally got standardized measuring cups and spoons. And, thankfully, we moved away from wood-burning stoves and ovens whose temperature couldn’t be regulated, to electric and gas stoves that could be set to a specified temperature. And cookbooks quickly started incorporating these marvels into their recipes.

The Best-Selling Cookbook of All Time

Finally, we can’t get away from cookbooks without mentioning the best-selling cookbook of all time…The Betty Crocker Cookbook. Betty, as you might know, doesn’t exist. She was completely made up by the company that would later be known as General Mills. And she came about because people kept writing in asking questions about the company’s products.

So, kind of like a cooking Dear Abby, they created Betty to answer the questions. And they chose the name Betty because it sounded friendly and cheery, and Crocker was the last name of the company’s recently retired director.

The imaginary Betty Crocker was born in 1921, and became hugely popular. And like many celebrities, she eventually came out with her own cookbook. The first Betty Crocker Cookbook was published in 1950.

It not only contained recipes, but also practical household tips, and plenty of sympathy and understanding for the trials and tribulations of the mid-century housewife. It was so popular it outsold the Bible in its first year of publication, and had since sold over 65 million copies. And yes, I have my own tattered copy in the kitchen.

But Wait, There’s More

So that’s it for a quick history cookbooks. But I couldn’t resist researching one more thing, and that is the weirdest cookbooks. As you might guess, it generated seem hilarious hits that I’ll be sharing with those of you who are on The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter. And if you want to get that newsletter, yep, there’s a link in the show notes.

Podcast Updates

I guess that means it’s time for updates. As for the podcast, there’s not much to report. Just keep listening and keep recommending the show to others, and I’ll keep trying to crank out episodes. Of course, if you have an idea for a book, an author, or a bit of literary lore you’d like me to explore, feel free to contact me with your topic ideas by using the link in the show notes. 

Writing Updates…Prepping for Cassie Black

As for writing updates, I’ve been putting together all the parts to get my Cassie Black Trilogy ready for release early next year. That means getting titles, covers, and descriptions together for all three books. I’ve also formatted the paperbacks for the first two books — book three isn’t to that point yet, but getting closer.

And I’ve gone on a mad spree of writing a stockpile of blog posts to share Cassie’s creation, inspiration, and quirks with the world over the next few months. I know, big surprise, but there’s a few links in the show notes if you’d like to see the process of coming up with titles and the evolution of the books’ cover design.

Signing Off

Okay my home cooks, that is it for this episode. Stay safe, keep your distance, don’t eat too much, and I will hoot at you next time.

 

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved. Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Authors, Book History, Journalism, podcast

Around the World with Nellie Bly

Hello Book Nerds!

It’s a mash-up episode this time around! After reading 80 Days Around the World, I was reminded of Nellie Bly’s race around the world in 1889.

Who was Nellie Bly? How did she change the writing world for women? And was Jules Verne’s novel nothing more than a product placement ad? Find out in Episode (Lucky Number) 13.

Behind the Scenes

After reading 80 Days Around the World for the first time recently, I had planned on doing a whole episode on the book. But as I was reading it (or listening to it since I got the audiobook from the library), I kept thinking about another book I’d read a few years ago titled Eighty Days. It recounted the true life competition of two women racing around the world as part of a newspaper stunt.

One of those women was Nellie Bly, and I thought it would be perfect to combine an 80 Days Around the World episode with Nellie’s tenacious efforts to make her name in journalism. Stick with me here. This will all come together, I promise. Or at least, I hope.

Enjoy the episode!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen right in your browser, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. And remember, all these listening options are completely free!!

 

Listening links…

Links mentioned in this episode…

*Note: The book link above is an affiliate link. It costs you nothing extra, but I earn a teeny tiny commission on your purchase to help with the costs of running this podcast. Thanks for your support :))

The (Rough) Transcript

(Want photos with your text? With each episode my newsletter subscribers get images plus other bonus features to help them get more out fo the show. Sign up today at https://www.subscribepage.com/bookowlpodcast)

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

So it’s episode 13 and this time we’re talking about a pioneering woman named Nellie Bly. If you’ve never heard of her, you’re probably not alone…although I think there’s a movie being made about her exploits. Anyway, she was quite the go getter in the writing world…and around the world. 

But before we start. I screwed up! In Episode 12, while I was rambling on about Agatha Christie, I missed a beat and said something like, “In 1914, World War II broke out.” Yeah, that would be World War I going on in 1914. Oops. And thanks to David Anderson for catching that flub…and teasing me about it. But I’ll let him get away with that because he’s my husband…but the next time he makes a mistake…yeah. I did add the correction to the show notes for that episode. I just hope no historians start trolling me.

Also, thank you to everyone who enjoyed the Agatha Christie episode. Special thanks to LaVelle Stumpf (aka “my mom”) and Tierney of TierneyCreates.com for leaving comments about how much you enjoyed the episode.

Alright, so Nellie Bly. Who is she and what does she have to do with Jules Verne? Well Nellie was a journalist and while she didn’t invent the notion of investigative journalism, she was one of the first ladies who showed women could be just as hard-hitting as male reporters. Now, if you’re scratching you head wondering how this relates to books, we have to take a couple steps back to the publication of Jules Verne’s story 80 Days Around the World.

Now, I had planned on doing a whole episode on 80 Days Around the World because I just read the book for the first time and I loved it. But as I was reading it (or listening to it since I got the audiobook from the library), I kept thinking about another book I’d read a few years ago titled Eighty Days. It recounted the true life competition of two women racing around the world as part of a newspaper stunt.

One of those women was Nellie Bly, and I thought it would be perfect to combine an 80 Days Around the World episode with her tenacious efforts to make her name in journalism. Stick with me here. This will all come together, I promise. Or at least, I hope.

So if you’ve never read it, 80 Days Around the World tells the tale of Phileas Fogg and his servant Passepartout going around the world in under 80 days. They do this to win a £20,000 bet Phileas has made at his club in London, and poor Passepartout is really put through his paces the entire way through the tale. And to me he is the main character of the story, although Phileas Fogg seems to get all the credit.

As many stories were done back then, the book was published in serial form with the first installment coming out on the 2nd of October 1872 and people watched the pair journey through the Suez Canal, across India (where they stop to rescue a princess), on to Singapore, San Francisco, New York, Ireland, then back to London. The final installment came out on the 21st of December…the same day as the fictional Phileas’s is set to return to London.

And you might know Jules Verne for his science-based stories like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and science and technology does play a key part in the novel because he makes use of recent developments such as the Transcontinental Railroad in the US, the linking of the Indian railways, and the opening of the Suez Canal. 

People were hooked on this story. So much so that they thought it might be real. They even placed bets on whether or not Phileas would make it in time. No word on how many won or lost those bets. And in sort of a modern twist, there is speculation that the book is basically a huge product placement ad because Verne gets very specific in naming certain trains and ships and their amenities. Hey, whatever you can do to make a buck, right.

So now let’s get back to Nellie Bly. She was born in Pittsburgh in 1864, as Elizabeth Jane Cochran. She started in on her higher education, but had to drop out after only one term because he didn’t have enough money for tuition. 

And you kind of have to admire how Elizabeth gets her first writing gig. Basically she gets angry and sends off a letter…that’s what people did back in the day before there were Twitter rants. See in 1880, she had come across an article titled “What Are Girls Good For?” which pretty much came straight out and said girls were good for nothing but keeping house and making babies.

I know, right?

So Elizabeth zips off her letter to the jerk face newspaper under the name Nellie Bly, the pseudonym she would end up writing under for the rest of her career. The editor of the newspaper ends up being so impressed with this Nellie’s eloquence and reasoning, he puts out an ad asking her to reveal herself. Eventually, she did and took a commission from him to write an article which ended up being about how divorce laws were set up to ruin a woman’s life. Mr. Editor is once again impressed and takes her on as a full time writer.

And Nellie jumps in with both feet investigating the harsh lives of factory girls. Trouble was the owners of those factories didn’t like their poor and downright dangerous working conditions exposed. They complained to the newspaper, and Nellie ended up being demoted to writing articles on fashion and gardening.

Big surprise. She didn’t like this work. 

So at this point she decides to take matters into her own hands and declares she’s going to write something no one has ever seen before. Now, keep in mind, she’s only 21 at this point, but she’s decided she’s going to be a real journalist, and sets out on the road to be a foreign correspondent reporting from Mexico. 

She gets to know the Mexican people, and ends up writing a fairly well received book about their lives. And she also joins in on a few protests against the Mexican government. This doesn’t go over well, because dictators don’t like protestors. She gets threatened with arrest, she hightails, it and when she gets back to Pittsburgh, she writes some pretty damning reports about the tyrannical Mexican government.

And despite all this, when she returns, the newspaper puts her back on the fashion and gardening articles.

Sheesh, what’s a girl got to do?

Move to New York, that’s what. In 1887, she leaves Pittsburgh, she’s completely broke, and she ends up talking her way into a job with the paper New York World. And it’s here she really gets committed to her work. Literally. 

Because it’s with the aim of revealing the horrible conditions within mental asylums she purposely gets herself committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum.

In the asylum, as expected, she discovers the utter brutality, cruelty, neglect, and just nasty living conditions. And she makes it through ten days before the New York World gets her released. She ends up writing not just an article exposing the horrors, but an entire book which stirred up such a sensation it ended up bringing reform to the asylum system.

All of which means, Nellie had just proved for the first time what girls were good for and that women were skilled enough to be true reporters, not just writers of fluff pieces or baby makers.

Now don’t worry, I haven’t gone fully off track because we’re now up to 1888 when Nellie’s reporting career meets up with 80 Days Around the World? 

So, in 1888, Nellie’s looking for an idea and suggests testing out whether Verne’s tale can actually be done. The editor sits on the idea, then in November 1889, he decides, “Yeah, that’s a a great idea.” So, with two days notice, she’s told to get packed and get her butt around the world in 80 days or less.

So, Nellie grabs nothing more than a small satchel, picture something like an old timey doctor’s bag, to hold a few toiletries and her underwear. She brings nothing to wear other than the dress she had on and her coat, and the only other item she brings is a couple hundred dollars that she’s tucked into a punch she wears around her neck. I mean, talk about traveling light!

Meanwhile over at Cosmo, yes, THE Cosmo, they’ve gotten wind of this scheme and send Elizabeth Bisland off on the same day, but in the opposite direction as Nellie (Nellie goes east as Phileas Fogg and Passepartout did in the story). 

And Bisland — and believe me, she’s fooling no one — tells everyone she’s just doing it for a personal adventure, and she’s not in any way competing with Nellie. I picture this statement being delivered with plenty of knowing eye winks. 

Nellie does follow Verne’s route as closely as possible and she even meets June Verne on the way. Although unlike Phileas and Passepartout, she does not rescue an Indian princess…such an underachiever, right? 

Anyway, while Nellie’s away, just like people did with 80 Days Around the World, the New York World organizes a betting scheme. Whoever guesses the exact minute Nellie will arrive will win a free trip to Europe. 

As she’s traveling, people are able to keep up with adventures and progress, because she’s sending cables and telegraphs at each stop to report her progress, as well as longer dispatches that are by sent mail which end up taking weeks to get to the paper. 

And she’s making really good time until she hits bad weather making the crossing to San Francisco. This puts her two days behind and risks Bisland catching up. Well Pulitzer, who I haven’t mentioned yet, but he owns the New York World is not about to risk losing this race, and so he hires a private train to whisk Nelli from the West Coast to New York where she arrives at 3:51 pm on the 25 of January 1890…72 days after taking off. At the time, that was a world record for going around the world.

No word on if anyone won that free trip to Europe, but Bisland wouldn’t arrive back to New York for four more days. 

And this newspaper stunt wasn’t the only time people have taken Verne’s book as some sort of challenge. Plenty of people have done the whirlwind tour and continue to do it today. 

For example, in 1903, James Willis Sayre of Seattle made an around the world trip in only 54 days using nothing but public transportation. In 1928, which would have been Verne’s 100th birthday, a Dutch newspaper sponsored 15-year-old Palle Huld to go around the world by train and ship. He made it in 44 days, but again, did not rescue an Indian princess. Lame. And in 1988, Michael Palin of Monty Python fame, did the an around the world journey for a television program using only ground and sea transport, no airplanes, which I’m sure Greta Thunberg would love. And he made the trip in 79 days and 7 hours, which just strikes me as being a bit theatrical.

Anyway, back to Nellie. She continues to write until, at 31, she marries the 73-year-old Robert Seaman. He owns an ironworks company that makes steel bottles for milk and for boilers and Nellie helps him run the company. But nine years after they marry he dies and Nellie fully takes over operations. 

Nellie after all her investigations into working peoples’ lives, runs the company under the idea that workers should be treated well, including being provided health benefits and safe working conditions. Revolutionary! She also, for what it’s worth, invented a new type of milk can and a stackable type of garbage can.

So, it seems like Nellie is a wonder woman. She can do anything. Well, maybe not. She ends being crap at financial matters and ends up losing the entire company. Oops.

But luckily there’s a war on…and yes, that would be World War I. I am not getting that wrong this time! She ends up reporting on the Eastern Front of Europe and becomes one of the very first journalists, and certainly the first woman, to report from there. When she returned home, Nellie reported on Woman’s suffrage and other social issues. Unfortunately, in 1922, Nellie contracts pneumonia and doesn’t survive, but her story does live on and her work did pave the way for other female journalists.

So that is your two for one episode. Nellie Bly and 80 Days Around the World. If this has you curious about Nellie’s journey, get your hands on a copy of Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman. It’s a great read and really delves into an amazing adventure story, and a pretty incredible lady.

Writing Update – I’ve just finished the second book of my Cassie Black trilogy. Again. I know, I know, I said this was done a few weeks ago, but that draft was mainly filling in some giant plot holes and basically rewriting a huge chunk of the book. This draft was to see how those new additions fit into the scheme of things and of course some of them didn’t, so I had to rearrange a few events, trickle in a few more hints and teasers to set things up for the grand finale, and to hone some of the overall language and settings. But, I think this one is really close to done and I’ve sent it off to my eagle-eyed beta readers to see what they think.

As for the podcast, there’s not much other than if you’re on my newsletter you should have gotten your Book Owl Coloring Pages in the email for Episode 12. And any new sign ups will automatically get those coloring pages, because I’m sure we could all use a way to take our minds off things lately.

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com