How to Survive the Titanic, or the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay

Frances Wilson

How to Survive the Titanic, or the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay

When the Titanic 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. 3.4 out of 5 based on 7 reviews
How to Survive the Titanic, or the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography
Format Hardback
Pages 352
RRP £18.99
Date of Publication August 2011
ISBN 978-1408809228
Publisher Bloomsbury
 

When the Titanic 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.

"J Bruce Ismay: doomed the moment he jumped ship" | Frances Wilson | Telegraph (3/8/11)

Reviews

The Evening Standard

Hermione Eyre

Just when it seemed impossible to make the story of the Titanic fresh, along comes this sensitive book … Wilson ingeniously, tirelessly brings the unsympathetic J Bruce Ismay to life

18/08/2011

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The Spectator

Richard Davenport-Hines

Mulish, hard-line Titanic buffs may dismiss Wilson’s digressive chapter on Joseph Conrad and Lord Jim as airy-fairy time-wasting: other readers will be relieved not to be pelted with facts about bulkhead rivets and davit design. She provides an exact description and lucid explanations of what happened. Her prose is poised and elegant: she expresses a sprightly joy about the human comedy, tenderness about human frailty, and calm wisdom amidst all Ismay’s sadness.

20/08/2011

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The Daily Telegraph

Andrew Lycett

Part reportage, part biography, part literary criticism ... a stimulating, very readable book which, though hardly modernist (except perhaps in its understated aspirations to stretch the boundaries of biography), will fascinate literary and Titanic enthusiasts alike.

23/08/2011

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The Guardian

Sarah Churchwell

Unusual and creative ... In the end, the subject of this fascinating book is not just historical or biographical uncertainty, but psychological and moral ambiguity. Ismay became a kind of modern ancient mariner, endlessly trying to explain himself, but his solipsism meant that the 1,500 people who died on the Titanic collapsed into the intractable problem of his disappointment in himself.

13/08/2011

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The Sunday Telegraph

Kate Colquhoun

A wily, astute writer … Out of the tragedy of the shipwreck and its aftershocks, Wilson plucks the story of a man who refused to look as his ship went down: an ordinary man who, in extraordinary circumstances, failed to rise to greatness.

14/08/2011

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The Sunday Times

Bella Bathurst

[Wison draws] parallels between Ismay and Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, published 12 years before the Titanic sank. Conrad’s Jim, like Ismay, jumps from a sinking ship into a boat and lives to regret his survival. The novel is famous for a spanking start and a slack behind; all action in the first half, all dreary exposition in the second. Wilson’s Ismay cannot help but fall into the same trap. For as long as the Titanic is once again rising and falling, her biography has the pace and intelligence of a great novel. But afterwards, because Ismay, like Lord Jim, goes nowhere, neither can the book.

14/08/2011

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The Independent on Sunday

David Randall

In Titanic films, the chairman of its owners, J Bruce Ismay, is always depicted as a cold fish who ... as the ship went down, slipped into a lifeboat, leaving 1,513 of his customers and staff to perish. Frances Wilson in How To Survive The Titanic or The Sinking of J Bruce Ismay does little to contradict this portrait ... Finally, a good deal of the book is taken up with references to, and parallels with, Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, who also scarpered leaving passengers to drown, although he was a mate, not the owner. Finer minds than mine may find these absorbing.

04/09/2011

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