How to Survive the Titanic: Or, The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay

How to Survive the Titanic: Or, The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay

2.8 14
by Frances Wilson
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

A brilliantly original and gripping new look at the sinking of the Titanic through the prism of the life and lost honor of J. Bruce Ismay, the ship’s owner

Books have been written and films have been made, we have raised the Titanic and watched her go down again on numerous occasions, but out of the wreckage Frances Wilson spins a new epic

…  See more details below

Overview

A brilliantly original and gripping new look at the sinking of the Titanic through the prism of the life and lost honor of J. Bruce Ismay, the ship’s owner

Books have been written and films have been made, we have raised the Titanic and watched her go down again on numerous occasions, but out of the wreckage Frances Wilson spins a new epic: when the ship hit the iceberg on April 14, 1912, and one thousand men, lighting their last cigarettes, prepared to die, J. Bruce Ismay, the ship’s owner and inheritor of the White Star fortune, jumped into a lifeboat filled with women and children and rowed away to safety.

Accused of cowardice and of dictating the Titanic’s excessive speed, Ismay became, according to one headline, “The Most Talked-of Man in the World.” The first victim of a press hate campaign, he never recovered from the damage to his reputation, and while the other survivors pieced together their accounts of the night, Ismay never spoke of his beloved ship again.

In the Titanic’s mail room was a manuscript by that great narrator of the sea, Joseph Conrad, the story of a man who impulsively betrays a code of honor and lives on under the strain of intolerable guilt. But it was Conrad’s great novel Lord Jim, in which a sailor abandons a sinking ship, leaving behind hundreds of passengers in his charge, that uncannily predicted Ismay’s fate. Conrad, the only major novelist to write about the Titanic, knew more than anyone what ships do to men, and it is with the help of his wisdom that Wilson unravels the reasons behind Ismay’s jump and the afterlives of his actions.

Using never-before-seen letters written by Ismay to the beautiful Marion Thayer, a first-class passenger with whom he had fallen in love during the voyage, Frances Wilson explores Ismay’s desperate need to tell his story, to make sense of the horror of it all, and to find a way of living with the consciousness of lost honor. For those who survived the Titanic, the world was never the same. But as Wilson superbly demonstrates, we all have our own Titanics, and we all need to find ways of surviving them.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This searching if sometimes clouded historical-literary study explores the meanings of the famous shipwreck through the enigmatic—or perhaps stunted—inner life of a notorious cad. Ismay, a Titanic passenger and managing director of the firm that owned the ship, was condemned for violating the gentleman's code by, instead of going down with the ship, taking a lifeboat berth that might have gone to a woman or child; he was also blamed for the shortage of lifeboats and the ship's reckless speed in the ice field. Wilson (Literary Seductions) gives an absorbing account of the disaster and its cultural associations, but poring over Ismay's evasive public statements and newly unearthed, self-pitying letters glean her few insights into his culpability and character—for that she resorts to exegeses of Lord Jim and other Joseph Conrad tales about disgraced seamen. In treating the stolid, unapologetic Ismay as a tortured Conrad character—"Was Ismay a super captain, a double captain or a double agent, living both the life of the ship and the life of the passenger?”—Wilson sometimes mistakes lit-crit conceits for analysis. Still, her approach yields a rich meditation on the mere moment's hesitation that separates cowardice from courage. Photos. (Oct. 11)
Forbes
“A gripping account…Wilson brings a bright new perspective to the event raising provocative moral questions about cowardice and heroism, memory and identity, survival and guilt.”
BusinessWeek
“Persuasive…examines the disaster afresh through the prism of Ismay’s life…Ultimately, Wilson’s portrait-empathetic rather than sympathetic-depicts Ismay as an Everyman troublingly suited to our own uncertain times.”
Hermione Eyre
“Wilson herself casts a Conradian spell…finds submerged truths, unravels riddles, listens to echoes. This book is a deep reading of the catastrophe through one hapless, inert man.”
Lucy Scholes
“A haunting story…A meticulously researched and eloquently written account of one of the twentieth century’s most iconic disasters [that] explores a man ‘mired in the moment of his jump.’”
Richard Holmes
“A gripping retrospective on the Titanic disaster seen through the eyes of the wealthy ship’s owner…and an inspired interweaving of the moral themes of guilt and responsibility”
Library Journal
Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star shipping line, became infamous because of the night in April 1912 that he boarded a lifeboat leaving his company's brand new ship, Titanic, to sink and more than 1500 passengers and crew to die. Not technically a passenger, he as the ship's "owner" bore some responsibility for the lack of adequate lifeboats; his right to a seat in one of those lifeboats has been debated for almost 100 years. Wilson (The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth), with access to Ismay family material in private hands and an impressive command of the sources, has composed a very readable study of an unsympathetic character. Notions of duty and responsibility, of heroism and cowardice, are thoughtfully discussed. Wilson draws comparisons between Ismay and Joseph Conrad's title character in Lord Jim, but some readers might wish to skip the tangential discussions of Conrad's life and works. VERDICT It is a pleasure to read a book, as the centennial of the Titanic sinking approaches, that offers something new on this topic. Titanic completists will certainly want this, and it is also recommended for readers of biography and Edwardian-era history.—Megan Hahn Fraser, Univ. of California-Los Angeles Lib.
From the Publisher
"Wilson gives an absorbing account of the disaster and its cultural associations...her approach yields a rich meditation on the mere moment's hesitation that separates cowardice from courage." - Publishers Weekly
"It is a pleasure to read a book that offers something new on this topic. Titanic completists will certainly want this, and also readers of biography and Edwardian-era history." - Library Journal
"The author demonstrates an impressive knowledge of that night to remember." - Kirkus Reviews
"[Ismay's] dramatic story comes to life...Wilson writes eloquently of this classic Icarus tale..." - NPR
"...a gripping study - part reportage, part biography, part literary criticism...a stimulating, very readable book...will fascinate literary and Titanic enthusiasts alike." - The Telegraph
"Just when it seemed impossible to make the story of the Titanic fresh, along comes this sensitive book, full of strange currents, coincidences and pairings...This book finds submerged truths, unravels riddles, listens to echoes...a deep reading of the catastrophe through one hapless, inert man." - London Evening Standard

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062094544
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/11/2011
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.26(d)

What People are saying about this

Richard Holmes
“A gripping retrospective on the Titanic disaster seen through the eyes of the wealthy ship’s owner…and an inspired interweaving of the moral themes of guilt and responsibility”
Lucy Scholes
“A haunting story…A meticulously researched and eloquently written account of one of the twentieth century’s most iconic disasters [that] explores a man ‘mired in the moment of his jump.’”
Hermione Eyre
“Wilson herself casts a Conradian spell…finds submerged truths, unravels riddles, listens to echoes. This book is a deep reading of the catastrophe through one hapless, inert man.”

Meet the Author

Frances Wilson was educated at Oxford University and lectured on nineteenth- and twentieth-century English literature for fifteen years before becoming a full-time writer. Her books include Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers and The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life, which won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize. She reviews widely in the Britishpress and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She divides her time between London and Normandy.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >