I am pleased to be on a part of The Coffee Pot Book Club and the book tour for A Feigned Madness, by Tonya Mitchell.
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.
In the late 1880’s, determined Elizabeth Cochrane fights for a job with a top newspaper, the New York World, but little does she know the depths she will end up plunging into.
Her unusual friendship with another reporter, George McCain, drifts into mysterious territory, and Elizabeth senses herself submitting to his handsome face and romantic charms. McCain speaks his regard for Elizabeth through “the language of flowers”. However, an impediment discloses itself between their budding feelings for one another.
Writing under the assumed name of Nellie Bly and as a ploy to gain readers forthe World with a sensational article, Elizabeth decides to take a brave step and dive into the realm of the insane, feigning madness to gain entry to the infamous asylum on Blackwell Island in New York. Her objective: to reveal the inner works of the asylum and uncover the truth of those labeled as insane, the cast-aways of society.
Appalled at the harsh conditions, unhealthy and unsanitary environment, and treatment of the women at the asylum, Elizabeth takes note. Eventually, she can’t stand by while the women she’s come to know and befriend are treated with such brutality.
But will Elizabeth survive the consequences of her actions and endure “The Lodge”, as the nursing staff call a special region of the asylum for those whom they deem as buckers of the highly regulated regiments and rules of the dictatorship-like governing of the institution? Can she survive “the chair”, the ultimate punishment? If she does, will it land her the hard-won journalism job she’s gambled her life on?
In the end will George and Elizabeth move past societal conventions to claim what their hearts tell them? Find out in this well-written, highly engaging historical fiction drama, based upon the lives of real people.
This novel has everything I enjoy in my favorite genre. I had a hard time putting it down, and If you’re a lover of suspenseful historical fiction, I guarantee that you won’t be able to either!
I give A Feigned Madness 5/5 stars.
Note: the novel does contain some graphic scenes of physical abuse for those readers who are sensitive to that.
Publication date: 6th October 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller
Publisher: Cynren Press
Print Length: 392 pages
Ever since reading Jane Eyre in high school, Tonya Mitchell has been drawn to dark stories of the gothic variety. Her influences include Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bram Stoker. More contemporarily, she loves the work of Agatha Christie, Margaret Atwood, and Laura Purcell. When she landed on a story about a woman who feigned insanity in order to go undercover in an insane asylum, she knew she’d landed on something she was meant to write. Her short 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, Ohio with her husband and three wildly energetic sons. A Feigned Madness is her first novel.