Around the World in Seventy-Two Days is journalist Nellie Bly's account of her Real Life trip around the world, taking place from November 14, 1889 to January 25, 1890.
Bly (the pen name of Elizabeth Jane Cochran) was one of the most notable journalists of her day, an Intrepid Reporter who became world-famous despite being a woman in the Victorian era. In 1887 she published a landmark insider expose of insane asylums, Ten Days in a Mad-House. Her next idea, which she hit upon in 1888, was to attempt to recreate the fictional Phileas Fogg's journey as described by Jules Verne in Around the World in 80 Days. Bly received some initial resistance from her editor, who believed that such a journey would be too stressful for a woman, but a year later she got the green light and headed east.
Bly traveled almost exclusively by steamship, except for a train journey from Boulougne to Brindisi and the home stretch across the United States, eschewing Phileas Fogg's journey across India in favor of a route through Ceylon. She made a special detour to interview Jules Verne at his home in France. Bly landed in San Francisco two days behind schedule but a special train sent by her publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, allowed her to reach New York with a week to spare. Bly's dispatches from her route were huge news and her memoir of the journey became a best-seller and even inspired a board game. It remains a landmark of early travel literature.
- Blackface: A reminder that this is a thing that people really did once, as Bly describes sailing down the Red Sea and being entertained by some of the other passengers putting on a minstrel show, "blackened faces streaked with perspiration."
- Chinese Launderer: Bly praises "what Orientals can do in the washing line," and notes that six hours is enough for one to get a load of laundry back.
- Decapitation Presentation: In Canton a guide is telling Bly about all the executions that the local government carries out. She is skeptical, so he pulls a severed head out of a barrrel.
- Eureka Moment: As Bly describes it, she was racking her brain trying to figure out an idea for an assignment, lying awake in her bed at 3 a.m., when she thought "I wish I was at the other end of the earth!" Then the idea hit her.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Bly winds up buying a monkey in Singapore and taking him home. She notes that he is a good seaman. The monkey greatly annoys a stewardess who has to tend to Bly during the trip from Hong Kong to Tokyo.
- Evil Brit: Bly has a rather cynical view of The British Empire, realizing after seeing the British flag in Aden that "the English have stolen almost all, if not all, desirable sea ports."
- A Foggy Day in London Town: "A gray, misty fog hung like a ghostly pall over the city."
- Geisha: While in Yokohama Bly attends a performance of "dancing, or geisha, girls." She describes them as "very short, with the slenderest of slender waists," and is very impressed by their beauty.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Bly uses a marvelous turn of phrase to describe getting seasick and vomiting up her lunch on the ship across the Atlantic."I looked blindly down, caring little what the wild waves were saying, and gave vent to my feelings."
- Hero of Another Story: In Hong Kong Bly is told that she is actually in a race with another female journalist, who is travelling in the opposite direction and probably passed her in the Straits of Malacca. Bly is very pissed when she hears this. (That journalist, Elizabeth Bisland, had been sent off on the same day as Bly, on exactly six hours' notice after a rival newspaper heard about Bly's trip. She missed a connection in Southampton and arrived four days after Bly, completing her trip in 76 days.)
- Hypocritical Humor: While sailing from Port Said to Aden, Bly meets a young man who says he's avoided marriage because women need so many trunks for traveling. She asks him how many trunks he's traveling with, and he tells her "Nineteen."
- Lighthouse Point: Bly marvels at the lighthouse at Calais and wonders if the light keeps the people of Calais awake at night.
- National Geographic Nudity: Bly mentions this multiple times during her trip, like when she observes the naked black men pulling rickshaws in Colombo, or the naked men on the beach at Port Said that caught an alligator.
- New Year Has Come: Bly and her fellow travelers toast the New Year and sing "Auld Lang Syne" while on route from Hong Kong to Yokohama.
- Sand Necktie: Bly is told of a pretty horrifying method of execution in Canton in which criminals are buried up to their neck and left there to die.
- Scenery Porn: Behold Bly's description of the Adriatic coast of Italy."I saw on one side a beautiful beach and a smooth bay dotted with boats bearing oddly-shaped and brightly-colored sails, which somehow looked to me like mammoth butterflies, dipping, dipping about in search of honey. Most of the sails were red, and as the sun kissed them with renewed warmth, just before leaving us in darkness, the sails looked as if they were composed of brilliant fire."
- Travelogue Show: A memoir of a trip around the world.
- World Tour: Nellie Bly had a cool job.
- Worthless Yellow Rocks: Things were different in the 19th century; Bly observes that hardly anyone takes American money seriously. In Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the merchants punch holes through American gold pieces and wear them as jewelry.