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Short Story/Novella Collection > Ten Days in a Mad-House - July 2018

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message 1: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new)

Bob | 5092 comments Mod
Our July 2018 Short Story/Novella is Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly. It is listed at 92 pages and was published in 1887.


message 2: by Terris (new)

Terris | 2843 comments Just started it -- really liking it so far!


message 3: by Carlo (new)

Carlo | 206 comments It was quite a brave thing to do. Anything could have happened to her in the asylum even if she did tell people on the outside to come and get her out after the 10 days.


message 4: by Terris (new)

Terris | 2843 comments Agreed! She really had guts!


message 5: by siriusedward (last edited Jul 04, 2018 02:19PM) (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments Truly.
The way she wrote.How she was advised to just get in and we'll see about rescuing you but no real absolute guarantee of it....terrifying really...
I like how she wrote that though she had read about some ill treatment of the insane she did not believe it...considered them exaggerations/romance.ish writing... how skeptical she was going in...
And how they were not into sensationalism..just to investigate day to day management or rather mismanagement.


message 6: by siriusedward (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments Terris wrote: "Just started it -- really liking it so far!"

Me too...just started..liking her tone and the way its written...


message 7: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 4182 comments siriusedward wrote: "Truly.
The way she wrote.How she was advised to just get in and we'll see about rescuing you but no real absolute guarantee of it....terrifying really...
I like how she wrote that though she had re..."


I've just started it too, and what you pointed out here really impressed me. This was a very brave thing to do.

It was also a little funny they way she practiced making faces in the mirror. You wouldn't think that would work, but I guess it did, which I also find scary.


message 8: by siriusedward (last edited Jul 06, 2018 05:12PM) (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments Yeah

But the descriptions of the Doctors incompetence /deafness/carelessness along with the careless attitude of the people in charge of the insane is just too much to believe.But of course it must be the truth.How sad and provoking the whole system is.(Except for the Judge and the cop and even the landlady.)


message 9: by siriusedward (last edited Jul 06, 2018 05:12PM) (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/03/as...

And I try to remember that it was around that time that we began to learn more about the psychology and the psychiatry of mental illness and about the mental illness itself... what with Freud and co.


message 10: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 4182 comments I agree about the doctors/nurses. I was expecting ignorance about mental illness and institutional problems, but some of these people seem inhuman in their cruelty. Hard to chalk that up to not knowing any better.


message 11: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) siriusedward wrote: "http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/03/as..."

I've wanted to read this forever, so thank you for finally making me get my hands on a copy and do so. Wow.

Just also wanted to thank you for this article. It's interesting how I've known much of this my entire adult life. I've struggled with depression and PTSD, and I've seen so much change in my lifetime that it's hard to keep in mind how this change has been happening nonstop since we first really started paying more attention to mental illness and health as a field. I want to reread this short book and make notations this time through. I'll return after doing so.


message 12: by NancyJ (new)

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 30 comments When I was a child, I was so impressed with her - obsessed really. I'm really looking forward to this. I also ordered a bio about her (I think it might be from children's section though), and a recent DVD.

I think once someone gets into a mental health facility, everything they do is perceived through that filter. Think about how much of a person's behavior could be interpreted in different ways.

My sister and I both have floaters in our eyes (it's like a dark squiggly shadow that you only see once in a while). When you first get one, you can look a little crazy. Imagine that every once in a while, you see a black thing in your peripheral vision that looks like a spider or bug. It makes you start suddenly, turn your head around, and swat at a bug that isn't there. You look nuts! (Fortunately your brain adjusts and you stop noticing it.)


message 13: by siriusedward (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments Ella wrote: "siriusedward wrote: "http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/03/as..."

I've wanted to read this forever, so thank you for finally making me get my hands on a copy and do so. Wow.

Just also wanted..."


You are welcome :)


message 14: by Cynda (last edited Jul 06, 2018 06:42PM) (new)

Cynda  (cynda) | 3419 comments I was in nursing home/rehab in small-town Texas. A place that took my insurance and had a bed. In that small town there were no facilities for 2 or 3 hour's drive away for mental patients. So many mental patients there. The youngest someone in the early part of my several-month's stay was in his 40s.. When I left there was someone in her 30s. Those 2 patients will never leave alive. They had dementia problems as a result of other medical problems. G-d have mercy on us all.


message 15: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) NancyJ wrote: "I think once someone gets into a mental health facility, everything they do is perceived through that filter. Think about how much of a person's behavior could be interpreted in different ways.

Funny little aside; I was about 19, in a hospital for depression, and they were doing rounds while I was busy washing my hands. Immediately all of the doctors wanted to know how often I washed my hands, could they look at my skin, exactly how obsessed am I with hand-washing....

My reply was that I was washing my hands *after* breakfast b/c we'd had pancakes with sticky syrup and their little plastic stuff makes it impossible to eat w/o getting sticky stuff all over your hands.

Hopefully that remained uncharted and undiagnosed, but I doubt it.


message 16: by Cindy (new)

Cindy  | 58 comments I just started reading this and it is scary. I was amazed that she didn't have to work too hard to accomplish her goal. I was wondering if this took place in the present day, maybe it would have been a harder and longer process. She complained of headaches, the doctors would have ran tests and scans, referred her to specialists.

I did not know this was made into a movie. I was looking for a copy and I found movie trailers.


message 17: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) Cindy wrote: "I just started reading this and it is scary. I was amazed that she didn't have to work too hard to accomplish her goal. "

I started it yesterday night. I agree with Cindy, it is almost incredible how easy it was for her to be considered "insane". No, I don't think this would happen in the present day. I've suffered from migraines and know many people who are much impaired by them - all sorts of medical tests have been recommended to them (us), but none of us has been considered "crazy" because of this. As an aside, I struggle with several mental health issues but my headaches were taken seriously regardless.

I was in the psychiatry ward of the local hospital in Luxembourg for depression and all the doctors and nurses were incredilby humane. This was in 2013. I felt like I was at home and pampered by professionals who tried to be friendly. We had many activities like art-therapy, sports, walks, and obviously various sessions with a psychologist. It was very helpful. I don't know that it would be the same or even similar here in Italy. Obviously we don't have any more asylums, but I doubt whether the treatment is so good.


message 18: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) I've just finished reading it and loved it. It was a very difficult read, because it was so spine-chilling. I was horrified at how nurses treated women who were supposed to be "insane" (and many of them were perfectly sane, too!), how doctors pretended not to see and were just too ready to declare someone was "insane" without so much as examining them. Kudos to the journalist who had the courage to do such a thing, without real certainty that she would have been gotten out eventually.


message 19: by Jehona (new)

Jehona | 182 comments Well, this brought back some memories. I'm not that ancient, but things similar to this still happen in some countries.

I lived in Albania from 2008 to 2011. In May or June 2011 I had chest pain. I went to the ER and they sent me to the neuropsychiatry building because why bother checking someone if they are really sick, right? The very first thing I noticed was the smell. The whole building reeked of urine. The second were noises. I didn't see anybody get beaten, but judging by the noises, I wouldn't be surprised. The third thing was that I had to hunt for a doctor. Apparently they don't have offices. When I found one, she had me sit down on a chair in the corridor. The look on her face was boredom and she treated me as if I was an idiot and didn't understand what was going on. She asked me about what was my problem and 3 words in concluded that it was stress. I told her that I wasn't in any kind of stress. She then asked a friend whom I had asked to drive me to the hospital and he said that I had been working a lot, trying to finish a project but that was about it. I'm pretty sure that if he had said that I was crazy she would have locked me in. She proceeded to completely disregard what I was saying and tell me to take some medicine which I could buy in the pharmacy across the street. That thing was likely made for horses because I slept for some 24 hours after taking the first pill. I threw away the rest.


message 20: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) Horrible experience, Jehona. Once I was in the ER and there was a woman who felt funny on the whole of her left side, I think. The nurse welcoming her kept asking whether she suffered from panic attacks - why on earth?! There are some doctors and nurses who seem to think that evereything must be a psychiatric symptom if you're not an elderly person. On the other hand, when I had my first panic attack and went to the ER, the nurse was very kind and tested all she could (heart, blood pressure, etc.) before stating it was a panic attack. She must have known that from the very beginning, but wanted to be sure just in case, I guess. I appreciated that kind of behavior.


message 21: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) I can't stop thinking about this book, and I just found this one at my local library, which is an in depth look at the asylum in which Nelly Bly "stayed" for those 10 days: Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, & Criminal in 19th-Century New York by Stacy Horn, which was released this year. I haven't started it yet, but I will soon.

Meanwhile, did any of you have similar thoughts that part of the ease with which she was incarcerated had to do with her being an unmarried woman, pretending to be slightly foreign and most of all poor? It made me wonder why the editor had assigned this to a woman in the first place. Would a man have had a harder time getting himself into an asylum?


message 22: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 4182 comments Ella wrote: "Meanwhile, did any of you have similar thoughts that part of the ease with which she was incarcerated had to do with her being an unmarried woman, pretending to be slightly foreign and most of all poor? ..."

Ella, this is a great point and I think you're absolutely right. And I may have a hangover from The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, but it seems it was not uncommon at that time for a man to have his wife committed--I would venture to guess much more common than the other way around.

It is absolutely chilling to think of these women having nowhere to turn for help in getting them out of there.


message 23: by siriusedward (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments True.But remember one girl was sent on by her friends...so women sending women too might have been common...


message 24: by Jehona (new)

Jehona | 182 comments siriusedward wrote: "True.But remember one girl was sent on by her friends...so women sending women too might have been common..."

There were also cases of brothers sending sisters in an asylum so the brothers could take their inheritance.


I saw a list of issues for being committed to an asylum a while ago and it included: reading novels, deserting husband, being deserted by the husband, masturbating, not masturbating, participating in politics, etc. For a woman, just having a man want to put you there was often enough.


message 25: by siriusedward (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments The mess situation brought to mind One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich's mess...each one out to grab as much as he can..


message 26: by siriusedward (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments Jehona wrote: "siriusedward wrote: "True.But remember one girl was sent on by her friends...so women sending women too might have been common..."

There were also cases of brothers sending sisters in an asylum so..."


Very chilling...all sounds silly to us..but they considered Novel Reading real sinful and stupid I think..


message 27: by siriusedward (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments The nurses are so cruel..I want to smack some of them..as if kindness requires any effort.. to be so cruel...


message 28: by siriusedward (last edited Jul 11, 2018 09:09AM) (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments One thing that I don't like though is how she thinks many are sane just by talking to them.Not because they aren't but because sometimes mental illness won't be evident in their eyes or appearance or behavior ..and she writes like she knows to tell them apart..this did grate on me a bit..but it is really insignificant compared to her bravery.

.. Not that the Doctors and Nurses mentioned here are actual medical healthcare professionals..its like they are there to pose so/fake.They should be arrested.To be so cruel when empathy is the most required thing in the profession is terrible.


Love her observation s about the ill patients though..she presented them as people with different sides to them too...with talents and quirk and feelings..not a thing to be gaped at...
Most people of the time may not really know what
actual mentally ill people were like..but were scared of the unknown.


message 29: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 4182 comments siriusedward wrote: "One thing that I don't like though is how she thinks many are sane just by talking to them.Not because they aren't but because sometimes mental illness won't be evident in their eyes or appearance ..."

Oh yes, this bothered me too. It's sort of ironic that she was surprised she passed as insane, but then was so quick to judge others herself. Hopefully we understand better now how complex our mental health can be.


message 30: by Jehona (new)

Jehona | 182 comments Kathleen wrote: "siriusedward wrote: "One thing that I don't like though is how she thinks many are sane just by talking to them.Not because they aren't but because sometimes mental illness won't be evident in thei..."

The doctors didn't seem any better than her at distinguishing the sane from the insane, so I'm not inclined to judge her. After all, anxiety, depression, fobia, etc. are mental problems but they don't justify locking someone up in a place worse than prison. For all intents and purposes, these people can be considered sane.


message 31: by Phil (new)

Phil J | 627 comments Blackwell's Island was terrible partly because it was underfunded. A lot of the privations described- lack of clothing, poor food, dilapidated furniture and equipment- are caused partly by cost savings.

This is still a problem in the United States. There is not enough funding to care for people with mental illnesses, and they end up wandering the streets.

For that matter, it is also an issue in the prison system. There is not enough funding to properly house all of the prisoners, so the conditions are overcrowded and unsafe. Cost savings affect things like clothing and food. In Cincinnati, the prisoners wear used underwear taken from a communal bin- at least as of ten years ago.


message 32: by Loretta (new)

Loretta | 2670 comments Phil wrote: "Blackwell's Island was terrible partly because it was underfunded. A lot of the privations described- lack of clothing, poor food, dilapidated furniture and equipment- are caused partly by cost sav..."

I agree that there was lack of funding Phil but as I recall, the staff, doctors, nurses etc., ate quite well, food that was meant for the patients.


message 33: by Cynda (new)

Cynda  (cynda) | 3419 comments When society thought that insane people were inhabited by evil spirits, then it is understandable--though still seriously wrong and sad--that humans were keep in cages of various sorts. The eerie-titillating effect of seeing people sad, unkempt, and filthy is what brought people to see the insane at Bedlam.

By the time Nellie Bly was writing her journalism pieces, society knew better and still people--women--were being treated as cattle and dressed like the poorest worker. Since Nellie Bly was writing at or near the time the height of the Cult of Domesticity, her descriptions of the women terrified people. Woman as domestic goddess cannot be treated in these ways.
Nellie Boy wrote well and at the right time.


message 34: by Phil (new)

Phil J | 627 comments Does anyone know why Bly keeps using the word "span?" She uses it frequently, and I don't know what she means by it.


message 35: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1580 comments I don't have the book, Phil. Can you give me an example of where she uses it?


message 36: by Phil (new)

Phil J | 627 comments "the evening meal, which was similar to dinner, except that there was a spaner bill of fare"

"a span office occupied by several men and large books"

"A span, fair-complexioned nurse"

"a span tin plate on which there was a piece of boiled meat and a potato."

"I began to have a spaner regard for the ability of the doctors"

"The span windows were closed"

"a span saucer"

"a span tin pan"

"span, white caps"

"She was span"

"A span Catholic chapel"

I read a lot, and this is the only time I recall seeing the word used in this way. It seems like a criticism? Maybe it means "thin?"


message 37: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 4182 comments Phil, the copy I got online does not have this word. I think it's supposed to be small. For example, mine read "a small tin plate on which there was a piece of boiled meat and a potato."


message 38: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) Phil wrote: "Does anyone know why Bly keeps using the word "span?" She uses it frequently, and I don't know what she means by it."

I noticed that, too. She really uses that word a lot. I thought it meant something like "clean", as in "spick and span": https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dict... I'm not a native speaker, though.


message 39: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) ... or more probably Kathleen is right and it means "small": https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re...


message 40: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 4182 comments Marina (Sonnenbarke) wrote: "... or more probably Kathleen is right and it means "small": https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re..."

Wow. Good detective work, Marina! That is … appalling to me! What if it was replaced with a word we could understand, and it changed the meaning of a book?

On a lighter note, if it would have been "spam," then I would have thought maybe Monty Python got to it. Spam, spam, spam, spam ...


message 41: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1580 comments That is an unusual use of the word "span". My Collins dictionary doesn't have a definition that would fit her use of that word.


message 42: by siriusedward (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments Kathleen wrote: "Phil, the copy I got online does not have this word. I think it's supposed to be small. For example, mine read "a small tin plate on which there was a piece of boiled meat and a potato.""

Phil.I read from this

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/wome...

It does not have span eithe..Maybe a typo?


message 43: by siriusedward (new)

siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2058 comments Marina (Sonnenbarke) wrote: "... or more probably Kathleen is right and it means "small": https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re..."

That is some finding Marina.
👏


message 44: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1580 comments That is a major typo!


message 45: by Phil (new)

Phil J | 627 comments Thanks for all the sleuthing!

The assumption seems to be that the original text was "small." I wonder if it's the other way round? What if "span" had some idiosyncratic late-1800s New York usage that an editor changed to "small" in later editions?

Which came first? This kind of question ignites my curiosity.

Does anyone have a well-edited edition from a reputable publisher that we can check? I have a 99 cent Kindle copy that could have been pirated from anywhere.


message 46: by Loretta (new)

Loretta | 2670 comments How about this? I'm in church today and I'm reading my Liturgy of the Hours and I come upon this:

Like shepherd he feeds his flock;
In his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom,
And leading the ewes with care.
Who has cupped in his hand the waters of the sea,
and marked off the heavens with a SPAN.

Twice in one day. Span!


message 47: by Valerie (new)

Valerie (nicehotcupoftea) | 47 comments I read this today, and though it was a horrible account of what went on in that asylum, I imagine there was even more abusive behaviour going on in those institutions. The food sounded particularly gross, but the reused bathwater eww!


message 48: by J_BlueFlower (new)

J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1844 comments I think it was easy to get in because nobody could imaging any sane person wanting to get in.

I was a bit puzzled by all the focus on food. “and the patients had to try to choke down fresh fish, just boiled in water, without salt, pepper or butter; mutton, beef and potatoes without the faintest seasoning". Compared to getting beaten and the baths that sound like nothing. Food without salt is not the end of the world


message 49: by Jehona (new)

Jehona | 182 comments This online version has "small" in those cases http://digital.library.upenn.edu/wome...


message 50: by Melanti (new)

Melanti | 2383 comments Phil wrote: "Which came first? This kind of question ignites my curiosity...."

There's scans of the original newspaper articles on www.nellieblyonline.com and it's a bit blurry but it says "small."

http://www.nellieblyonline.com/images...


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