HOW TO SURVIVE THE <i>TITANIC</i> by Frances Wilson

HOW TO SURVIVE THE TITANIC

or, The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay

KIRKUS REVIEW

Wilson (The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, 2009) tells the story of the Titanic’s polarizing owner, who was aboard the vessel and survived its fatal 1912 collision with an iceberg.

The author demonstrates an impressive knowledge of that night to remember. She reminds us of the ship’s enormous size, its “unsinkable” reputation, its insufficiencies (not nearly enough lifeboats) and its principal function: to transport emigrants, who composed the large majority of the passengers. But her focus is the ship’s laconic owner, J. Bruce Ismay, who found a spot on one of the last lifeboats to leave the stricken vessel. (He later claimed, with some eyewitnesses’ substantiation, that no one else was around; a seat was open so he took it.) Many later reviled him, believing he should have chosen to perish with those left behind. Throughout, Wilson relies heavily not just on the documentary evidence—there were official hearings on both sides of the Atlantic; she summarizes both in detail—but on her literary training and interest. Allusions to literature abound—Moby-Dick, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Frankenstein, Charles Dickens, Alice in Wonderland, Virginia Woolf (who attended some of the hearings in England), E.M. Forester and, most significantly, Joseph Conrad and his Lord Jim, a novel whose plot parallels in striking fashion the story of Ismay. At times, Wilson loses herself in Conrad, and one chunky section of her text resembles nothing so much as an essay by an earnest grad student of Modern British Literature. Literary analogies can be arresting, but the author’s tour of Conrad is excessive and distracting. Far better are the sections where she mines Ismay’s pathetic letters, the numerous newspaper accounts and the survivors’ testimony.

An up-and-down history of an intriguing figure.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-209454-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2011




BOOKS FOR THE TITANIC'S 100TH ANNIVERSARY :

NonfictionHOW TO SURVIVE THE <i>TITANIC</i> by Frances Wilson
by Frances Wilson
NonfictionTITANIC TRAGEDY by John Maxtone-Graham
by John Maxtone-Graham
NonfictionSHADOW OF THE <i>TITANIC</i> by Andrew Wilson
by Andrew Wilson
NonfictionVOYAGERS OF THE TITANIC by Richard Davenport-Hines
by Richard Davenport-Hines

MORE BY FRANCES WILSON

NonfictionTHE BALLAD OF DOROTHY WORDSWORTH by Frances Wilson
by Frances Wilson
NonfictionLITERARY SEDUCTIONS by Frances Wilson
by Frances Wilson

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