The Bly-Verne connection took Nellie Bly off her precise itinerary. Her decision to meet Jules Verne in person at his home in Amiens, France threatened to derail her highly publicized race to beat Verne’s fictional record around the world in eighty days.
Accounts regarding the race vary in timelines and details from large to small. Dialogue is invented throughout published accounts. Some say that Bly disregarded her editor’s strict orders against veering off course. Others say her editors prearranged the meeting with Jules Verne. Accounts also vary as to whether or not Bly was aware that Elizabeth Bisland had challenged her on a westward course when she opted to visit Verne in Amiens.
While details vary, we do know that the Bly-Verne connection occurred and was enjoyed by all parties involved. We also know that if she missed her train to Calais after the visit, she would likely add a week or more to her journey. We also know that the publicity worked out well for both Bly and Verne.
The New York World’s Stunt Reporter Arrived In Southampton
Nellie Bly set sail from Hoboken, New Jersey on the Augusta Victoria on November 14, 1889. The ship landed in Southampton on Friday morning, November 22nd.
In her book, Around The World In Seventy-Two Days, Bly writes:
“While at luncheon on the 21st of November, some one called out that we were in sight of land. The way everyone left the table and rushed on deck was surely not surpassed by the companions of Columbus when they discovered America. … Dinner that evening was a very pleasant affair. Extra courses had been prepared in honor of those that were leaving at Southampton.” (Around the World In Seventy-Two Days, Chapter 4)
The World’s London correspondent, Stacey Greaves, chartered a special tug to meet the Augusta Victoria as soon as it anchored. By 7 o’clock Bly was at the London offices of the New York World.
The Harrisburg Telegraph wrote that Bly’s ship had a heavy mail load on board. English post office authorities were anxious to get it on Friday morning’s delivery.
“Through the kindness of Superintendent Winchester, of London’s Southwestern railway, who took an intense interest in Nellie Bly’s trip, The World’s London correspondent was able to obtain a passage for himself and post Miss Bly on the post office special train from Southampton to London.” (Harrisburg Telegraph; January 11, 1890)
By some accounts, editors at the World had arranged for Bly to meet Jules Verne and his wife at their home in Amiens, France.
“She just had time afterwards to get a harried breakfast at the Charing Cross Hotel, and then boarded the tidal train via Folkestone and Boulogne for Amiens, where she was to meet Jules Verne. (Harrisburg Telegraph; January 11, 1890)
In her book, Bly writes that Mr. and Mrs. Verne sent a special invitation for her to visit them. But the London correspondent warned that time was of the essence if Bly wanted to win her race. But she was determined to make the Bly-Verne connection and win her race.
“”Oh, how I should like to see them!” I exclaimed, adding in the same breath, “Isn’t it hard to be forced to decline such a treat?”
“If you are willing to go without sleep and rest for two nights, I think it can be done,” he said quietly.
“Safely? Without making me miss any connections? If so, don’t think about sleep or rest.”
“It depends on our getting a train out of here to-night. All the regular trains until morning have left, and unless they decide to run a special mail train for the delayed mails, we will have to stay here all night and that will not give us time to see Verne. We shall see when we land what they will decide to do.” (Around the World In Seventy-Two Days, Chapter 4)
Despite Stern Warnings She Veered Off Course
According to some accounts, Jules Verne was uncertain about the value of entertaining the young female journalist from America. Even it that was his initial reaction to making the Bly-Verne connection, he had a change of heart.
At 4 p.m. November 22d, M. and Mme. Verne were pacing up and down the platform of the Amiens railway station in France, accompanied by the Paris correspondent of the New York World.
“The excitement of the old gentleman knew no bounds, and every now and again he exclaimed: “When is she coming? Mon Dieu, I hope nothing has happened. I feel as much interested in the success of this enterprise as I did when I was following Phileas Fogg and his friends round the world in my study.” (Harrisburg Telegraph; January 11, 1890)
Luckily, nothing had happened other than the train from Bologne was a few minutes late. Presently it came steaming into the Amiens station, and Jules Verne and his wife stepped hastily forward.
“Miss Bly alighted and the next minute was smilingly shaking hands with the gray-haired novelist and Mme. Verne. The latter was delighted with Miss Bly’s appearance, and kept on repeating: “Mon Dieu, what a child. Is it possible that lady is going all that long way alone?” (Harrisburg Telegraph; January 11, 1890)
She Risked All For A Flying Visit To The Verne’s Home
After Bly and her escort from the World determined the hour the club train for Calais was scheduled to depart, she accepted the Verne’s invitation to pay a “flying visit” to their house. She got into the carriage with Mme Verne while the World Correspondent accompanied Jules Verne in another vehicle.
According to the World newspaper accounts, a second Bly-Verne connection was made that day as Mme Verne and Miss Bly quickly became fast friends. Both talked at once, Mme. Verne in the most voluble French and Nellie in the most pronounced ‘United States’. Still, they managed to get on the most intimate terms.
“Mme Verne walked closely by my side, glancing occasionally at me with a smile, which said in the language of the eye, the common language of the whole animal world, alike plain to man and beast:
“I am glad to greet you, and I regret we cannot speak together.” M. Verne gracefully helped Mme. Verne and myself into a coupé, while he entered a carriage with the two other gentlemen. I felt very awkward at being left alone with Mme. Verne, as I was altogether unable to speak to her.
Her knowledge of the English language consisted of “No” and my French vocabulary consisted of “Oui,” so our conversation was limited to a few apologetic and friendly smiles interluded with an occasional pressure of the hand. Indeed, Mme Verne is a most charming woman, and even in this awkward position she made everything go most gracefully.” (Around the World In Seventy-Two Days, Chapter 4)
They reached the Verne’s house in twenty minutes. Verne’s house is one of the loveliest in Amiens, situated on the summit of a hill, with a fine view of the famous cathedral, and right on the verge of the tunnel which runs underneath the city into the railway station.
“It was early evening. As we drove through the streets of Amiens I got a flying glimpse of bright shops, a pretty park, and numerous nursemaids pushing baby carriages about.” (Around the World In Seventy-Two Days, Chapter 4)
She Had Tea With The Famous Novelist And His Wife
The party entered the drawing room. Mme Verne herself lighted the wood fire. Bly describes the large room decorated room with hangings and paintings and a soft velvet rug. Towering above Jules Verne was a mantle covered with fine pieces of bronze statuary.
“All the chairs artistically upholstered in brocaded silks, were luxuriously easy. Beginning at either side of the mantel they were placed in a semi-circle around the fire, which was only broken by a little table that held several tall silver candlesticks.”
Bly, the Verne’s and Mr. Sherard, correspondent for the World’s Paris office sat in a semi-circle, along with a white Angora cat.
Verne Questioned Her Eastward Course
With Sherard translating, the Bly-Verne connection deepened. She recited her course for Mr. Verne that included her New York, Southampton, Calais, Brindisi, Colombo, Hong Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco, New York route. Verne questioned why she did not land in Bombay and travel across India to Calcutta like Phileas Fogg.
“”Because I am more anxious to save time than a young widow,” I answered.
“You may save a young widower before you return,” M. Verne said with a smile.
I smiled with a superior knowledge, as women, fancy free, always will at such insinuations.” (Around the World In Seventy-Two Days, Chapter 4)
The Verne’s laughed at this. American Newspaper accounts read like publicity pieces for Bly and the World’s race.
“It really is not to be believed that that little girl is going all alone around the world; why, she looks a mere child.”
“Yes, but she is just built for work of that sort,” remarked Madame Verne, who seemed to have taken quite a fancy to the girl. “She is trim, energetic and strong. I believe, Jules, that she will make your heroes look foolish; she will beat your record.”
Jules Verne shook his head, and replied, laughing: “I would not like to risk my money.” (Harrisburg Telegraph; January 11, 1890)
They also discussed Verne’s inspiration to write Around the World In Eighty Days, which was a newspaper article.
“The idea pleased me, and while thinking it over it struck me that in their calculations they had not called into account the difference in the meridians and I thought what a denouement such a thing would make in a novel, so I went to work to write one. Had it not been for the denouement I don’t think that I should ever have written the book.” (Around the World In Seventy-Two Days, Chapter 4)
They mused that at some point in the future, even Bly’s record would be beaten.
“It is certain, he said that traveling has been rendered quicker since 1872 when I wrote my book which inspired this brilliant idea, and that a few days say two or three, have been gained. But …I will say that if Miss Bly does the journey in seventy-nine days she will accomplish a most wonderful feat. Each day gained will be a triumph.” (Harrisburg Telegraph; January 11, 1890)
Bly Was In Danger Of Missing Her Train But Wanted To See Jules Verne’s Writing Room
With a watchful eye on a Louis Quinze clock Bly realized that her time was ebbing quickly.
“There was only one train that I could take from here to Calais, and if I missed it I might just as well return to New York by the way I came, for the loss of that train meant one week’s delay.” (Around the World In Seventy-Two Days, Chapter 4)
Bly asked Verne to show her his office before she departed.
Carrying a lamp, Verne led Bly and the World’s Paris correspondent through the hall into the turret staircase and up three flights to his private apartments. His room served as a study and bedroom with windows overlooking the city.
Against the wall was a simple camp bedstead, and against the window a small table, on which his books, writing materials and papers were neatly arranged.
“It was also very modest and bare. Before the window was a flat-topped desk. The usual litter that accompanies and fills the desks of most literary persons was conspicuously absent, and the waste-basket that is usually filled to overflowing with what one very often considers their most brilliant productions, in this case held but a few little scraps.”
On the table was his manuscript in progress, Topsy Turvy or The Purchase of the North Pole (Sans Dessus Dessous) a novel about Americans who, for the sake of speculation, make an attempt to change the axis of the earth so as to convert polar regions into a fertile garden.
“I eagerly accepted the manuscript when he handed it to me, and when I looked at the neat penmanship, so neat in fact that had I not known it was prose I should have thought it was the work of a poet…In several places he had most effectually blotted out something that he had written, but there was no interlining, which gave me the idea that M. Verne always improved his work by taking out superfluous things and never by adding.”
Further sealing the Bly-Verne connection, the author led them to a large map with several marks in blue pencil that he had used to develop the course of his hero, Phileas Fogg’s trip around the world in eighty days.
“With a pencil he marked on the map, as we grouped about him, the places where my line of travel differed from that of Phileas Fogg.” (Around the World In Seventy-Two Days, Chapter 4)
The Clock Was Ticking Loudly
Bly realized that the Bly-Verne connection must come to an end shortly. Mme. kissed her cheeks. Jules Verne shook her hands wishing her good luck.
“When M. and Mme. Verne were no longer visible, my thoughts turned to my trip. I feared that the enjoyment of my visit to their home had jeopardized the success of my tour.”
The driver had been told to make the best speed back to the station, but to Bly, “the carriage seemed to be rolling along so quietly that I could not rest until it was urged again upon the coachman to reach the station in the shortest possible time.”
After a nerve-racking ride to the train station, Bly made the train by minutes. But she didn’t regret a moment of the anxiety she had felt to make the Bly-Verne connection a reality.
“Bidding a hearty good-bye to Mr. Sherard, I started again on my tour of the world, and the visit to Jules Verne was a thing of the past. I had gone without sleep and rest; I had traveled many miles out of my way for the privilege of meeting M. and Mme. Verne, and I felt that if I had gone around the world for that pleasure, I should not have considered the price too high.”
Bly’s Visit Was Mutually Beneficial
The Bly-Verne connection drew international publicity for both parties. Around the World in Eighty Days was re-issued in multiple new editions thanks to Bly’s race and plans were made to revive the stage play made from the book. For Bly, the news articles served as glowing publicity pieces that escalated her international celebrity status.
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