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Books have been written, films 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 14 April 1912 and a thousand men prepared to die, J Bruce Ismay, the ship's owner and inheritor of the White Star fortune, jumped into a lifeboat with the women and children and rowed away to safety. Accused of cowardice, Ismay became, according to one headline, ‘The Most Talked-of Man in the World'. The first victim of a press hate campaign, his reputation never recovered and while other survivors were piecing together their accounts, Ismay never spoke of his beloved ship again.With the help of that great narrator of the sea, Joseph Conrad, whose Lord Jim so uncannily predicted Ismay's fate - and whose manuscript of the story of a man who impulsively betrays a code of honour and lives on under the strain of intolerable guilt went down with the Titanic - Frances Wilson explores the reasons behind Ismay's jump, his desperate need to make sense of the horror of it all, and to find a way of living with lost honour.For those who survived the Titanic the world was never the same again. But as Wilson superbly demonstrates, we all have our own Titanics, and we all need to find ways of surviving them.
Beautifully written, and beautifully deconstructed (Sunday Times)
A gripping study - part reportage, part biography, part literary criticism - of the more intimate ramifications of a disaster which still haunts the public imagination (Sunday Telegraph)
Wonderfully rich and multi-layered ... Full of fascinating details ... It is one of the few works of recent non-fiction that would benefit from a second, or even a third reading. Every sentence crackles with intelligence (Mail on Sunday)
Masterful and timely (Daily Telegraph)
An unusual and creative book ... in the end, the subject of this fascinating book is not just historical or biographical uncertainty, but psychological and moral ambiguity (Guardian)
Wilson's biography is beautifully written and beautifully constructed (Sunday Times)
The strange and fascinating story of the owner of the Titanic, J. Bruce Ismay, the man who jumped ship
Contains some interesting information about Ismay's attitude to the sinking but presents no new details to confirm exactly what action was or was not taken by him on that night of disaster. The book also has a great reliance on long quoted passages from 'Lord Jim' by Joseph Conrad. All in all not the most informative read.
This is so tedious and hard to get through - don't waste your time. The author is clearly one of those academics in love with the sound of her own voice and enamoured of long quotations (easier than coming up with her own decent prose, right?). I was deeply unimpressed.
I read the reviews of this, heard bits on Radio 4, and in honour of the Centenary, had just re-read Walter Lord's seminal work "A Night to Remember". I was going on holiday, so downloading this book seemed a logical follow-on. It really could have been a good book, but so many irritants precluded this. Very early on there was reference to "Lord" & Lady Duff Gordon - there are articles all over the internet on Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon & his wife - either the editor or the author just slipped up, but it made subsequent facts harder to believe. J Bruce Ismay was a fascinating subject, in today's parlance clearly a very "damaged" personality (or perhaps just plain unpleasant). The author seems undecided. I did seriously wonder if she had chosen him as a subject merely to be able to write a literary treatise on the comparisons with Conrad's Lord Jim. While it didn't put me off reading it (like many I just skipped through it, despite having been unable to stomach Conrad - gave up on the Shadow Line many years ago and was warned off Nostromo & Typhoon by my mother, who was commanded to read them by her father) it didn't significantly add anything to the so-called biography of Ismay.
The author had done a lot of research into Ismay himself, his family, his connections and the enquiries, the material on which was interesting, although (like them) no real conclusions were drawn from them or Ismay's behaviour at them. Ismay's behaviour was weird to the point of deranged, and his subsequent shunning by society was not altogether surprising. Indeed the author does not really plead a case for him. How much more illuminating it would have been to have arranged the book in chronological order. Presenting his early life well into the book just seemed perverse. If it was a novel, then such leaps of time are well-established devices, but it has to be a very skilled biographer who can handle this without unnecessarily confusing readers. All in all, I found it an interesting but disappointing read.Read more ›
I don't know which planet these people, who criticise this book as a character assassination, come from! Have they even read the book? I can only doubt that they have. This book isn't anti-Ismay in the slightest. It is sympathetic towards him and its conclusion is, if there is one, that whatever he did, and no one knows, and no one can ever know, he was only acting as a human being, so he shouldn't be judged by people who haven't themselves been tested in a stressful, life-or-death situation. It reminds me a little of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. Whicher is a little earlier, but they both dissect one 'case' and use this as a hub to explore further afield in contemporary literature and society, etc. They also delve into one man's psyche and see what they can discover. This is compelling and excellently written.
J. Bruce Ismay was the managing director and chairman of the White Star Line, the company that built the Titanic. Ismay was on board and had seen a warning about ice sent from the Baltic, but went to bed after dinner apparently unconcerned. When the collision occurred at 11:40pm Ismay awoke and went to the bridge. One of a handful of people on board who realised the ship would sink he failed to warn his secretary, valet, dining companion or others of the danger. However, he did help load the lifeboats on the starboard side and was helping load Collapsible C, one of the four life rafts when he claimed, "I helped everybody into the boat that was there, and, as the boat was being lowered away, I got in." On this one action, Ismay was judged by the media as a coward. There were conflicting reports in the confusion - that Ismay was ordered to go, that he was virtually thrown into the boat by an officer, that he left on the first boat, that women already in the boat begged him to accompany them or that he was pressured to leave by members of the crew or the Captain. Ismay himself claimed he only took a seat when no women were there to take a place before him, but his actions were a defining moment in his life. William E. Carter, an American polo-playing millionaire, jumped into Collapsible C at the same time as Ismay and also claimed the deck was deserted and both men got into the lifeboat only after checking no women were there. However, Carter also claimed his wife and children had already left the ship and later, his wife Lucille, sued for divorce claiming he had deserted her and her children to their fate. Other passengers claimed there was pandemonium around the boat and that Ismay pushed his way on. So, was there a crowd, no people in sight, a panic or had Ismay made sure all women and children on his side of the ship had been put into the boats? The general confusion and panic meant that stories conflicted and people remembered things differently.
Ismay certainly did not seem to understand the general mood after the sinking of the Titanic and seemed disconected with people. On the Carpathia he hid in a cabin, refusing to see other passengers and not trying to help. He wanted to return to England as soon as he arrived in New York, but was virtually coerced into remaining for an inquiry led by Senator William Alden Smith. He was questioned on the stand for hours and the press made up their mind he was to blame. Ismay complained, saying "I did not suppose the question of my personal conduct was the subject of the inquiry." Neither Smith nor newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst gave him an easy time. The story of Ismay's survival was bigger than the story of the Titanic itself. The most serious accusation was that he had not wanted the Titanic to slow down in dangerous waters because he wanted to break the speed record to New York. The most common accusation was that he did not behave like a gentleman. Indeed, it was Ismay who was responsible for turning down suggestions for more lifeboats. Although, in his defence, the Titanic carried 10% more than the British Board of Trade's official requirements. A White Star Official said, "If a steamship had enough lifeboats for all there would be no room on deck for the passengers". Instead of lifeboats, there was luxury and the ship was seen as unsinkable - the whole ship was, in effect, a lifeboat.
This then is the story of the unlucky Mr Ismay, who survived one disaster to endure another sinking at the hands of the press and public. It is a fascinating story of his life, career and events leading up to the Titanic disaster and the events which happened afterwards. There is also a very interesting parallel with the story of "Lord Jim" by Joseph Conrad, which the author of the book discusses. The opening chapter, which deals with the night of the actual sinking is brilliantly written and the author is always fair and presents all the evidence and all sides of the arguments. Ismay was, in many ways, an unsympathetic character, but the author always tries to explain why he reacted the way he did to events. It is understandable that survivors, and the families of those lost, felt it was wrong that Ismay did not go down with the ship. In the event of such a disaster, it is impossible to judge someone, and you can't help but feel some sympathy with Mr Ismay when the public was looking for a scapegoat and found one in him. Excellent and very enjoyable book and very highly recommended. Anyone with any interest in the Titanic will enjoy this.Read more ›