Publication Date: 6th October 2020
Publisher: Cennan Books of Cynren Press
Page length: 377 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out. —Nellie Bly
Elizabeth Cochrane has a secret.
She isn’t the madwoman with amnesia the doctors and inmates at Blackwell’s Asylum think she is.
In truth, she’s working undercover for the New York World. When the managing editor refuses to hire her because she’s a woman, Elizabeth strikes a deal: in exchange for a job, she’ll impersonate a lunatic to expose a local asylum’s abuses.
When she arrives at the asylum, Elizabeth realizes she must make a decision—is she there merely to bear witness, or to intervene on behalf of the abused inmates? Can she interfere without blowing her cover? As the superintendent of the asylum grows increasingly suspicious, Elizabeth knows her scheme—and her dream of becoming a journalist in New York—is in jeopardy.
A Feigned Madness is a meticulously researched, fictionalized account of the woman who would come to be known as daredevil reporter Nellie Bly. At a time of cutthroat journalism, when newspapers battled for readers at any cost, Bly emerged as one of the first to break through the gender barrier—a woman who would, through her daring exploits, forge a trail for women fighting for their place in the world.
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Nurse Grupe cleared her throat, a challenge in her eyes as they locked with mine. “I said naked.”
Never in my life had I been naked in front of strangers; it was unthinkable I was expected to be now. Forty inmates looked down at the floor, too frightened to meet the nurse’s eyes. All but me were stripped bare. We stood in four rows of ten before a small tub, motionless, dispirited, and so chilled to the bone it might have been deep winter and not September. Crouched on a low stool beside the tub was an old, shriveled crone with a rag in her hands, a dingy towel slung on a chair next to her. Low evening light, filtering through the barred windows, threw diagonal slats across tile that had once been white but was now gray and bore the scars of perpetual use. Yet in that miserable gray-white room where there were only the singular tub, the rows of sinks and toilets, and the ubiquitous tile, I thought those marks signaled something else. If one were to move one’s fingers across those nicks and cracks and fissures like braille, they would tell the story of women who had borne witness to more than just bathing; they’d endured the crushing weight of hopelessness.
A muscle twitched in Nurse Grupe’s jaw; her pointy chin jutted in contempt. “For da last time, remove your clothes, else I vill strip you myself.”
Slowly, and shivering as I did so, I slipped out of my chemise and stockings and let them fall to the floor. I had already unbound my hair and so it covered my breasts, but that didn’t stop Grupe. Her eyes traveled down my body and back up again, her self-satisfied smile an indication of all that was Blackwell’s. Fewer than twenty-four hours inside the asylum, and I’d already learned an important rule: suffering was something to be brought forth and stoked continually, fed with the fi re of a hundred insults, fueled with a thousand opportunities to humiliate.
“New arrivals go first,” Grupe said, “and as you’re a stubborn little bitch, you’re first among dem.”
I stepped to the tub. The old crone’s lips parted in glee, revealing a row of rotten, tobacco-stained teeth. The two other nurses were poised at the ready on either side of the tub.
“Well, ain’t ye a prize piece for one o’ the doctors,” the crone cackled. Her smile slid from her face, and she jerked her head toward the tub. “Well, in wit ye. We ain’t got all day.”
The tub was as pitted and gray as the tile. Inside, along the bottom, a sinewy rust stain led to the drain, its hole plugged with the sawed-off end of a broomstick. It’s only a bath. I stepped into shin-high water so icy it took my breath away.
I brought my arms up to my abdomen in a futile attempt to keep warm, but the nurses were having none of it. They forced my arms to my sides and pressed me into a seated position. Icy water bit at my buttocks, thighs, and shins, my skin already turning pink. Behind me, the old nurse smacked the filthy rag against my back. The smell of the soap—a mixture of lye, ash, and animal fat—was far worse. I resisted the urge to gag as the two other nurses dropped wooden buckets in, filled them, and lifted them over me.
Freezing water rained down my head and face, shocking me into convulsive tremors the nurses rewarded with snickers. Bucket after bucket was upended over me, the water filling my mouth and eyes until there was only the blur of uniforms and the frenzied sloshing of the nurses’ efforts. My limbs throbbed. The cold was thickening my blood to sludge.
Suddenly, the dousing stopped. My head was yanked back as the crone began to soap my hair.
“Must you p-pull so?” I said, trying to keep my teeth from chattering. “It won’t be any cl-cleaner for it.” Already the surface of the water was coated with a thin layer of grease.
Nurse Grupe leaned down to me, a glint in her eyes as she watched me shiver. “Dose who complain have der heads shaved. Vould you like dat?”
Nurse Grupe straightened, stepped back, and nodded to the crone.
She pulled me backward by my hair and pushed me down into the water so quickly that I barely knew what had happened. I flailed, legs kicking, fingers clawing at the sudden hands at my neck, my lungs burning as I lay submerged. My hair writhed around me like dark seaweed. Muffled laughter as precious air escaped my nose and mouth. Blurry faces white and rippling as they held me down.
They were going to drown me.
And no one would save me. No one.
Tonya Mitchell received her BA in journalism from Indiana University. Her fiction has appeared in, among other publications, Glimmer and Other Stories and Poems, for which she won the Cinnamon Press award in fiction. She is a self-professed Anglophile and is obsessed with all things relating to the Victorian period. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society North America and resides in Cincinnati, OH with her husband and three wildly energetic sons.
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My favorite time period is the Tudor period in England. I love all sorts of historical fiction. I like mysteries, too. Thank you for a chance to win. Michelle tReplyDelete
GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. Winner has been announced on Instagram.ReplyDelete