Shadow of the Titanic

Titanic radio room

A recreation of Titanic’s radio room. Image courtesy of Maidesigns, Pixabay.

Just when I thought I’d read almost everything there is about the Titanic, along comes another book.

A coworker and I discussed the Titanic a while back, and he graciously loaned this book to me. The book is Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson. My coworker bought it in England, because it wasn’t available in this country at the time. (I notice that Amazon has it now, though.)

This book largely studies the psychological reactions of the Titanic survivors. The reactions vary widely — the crew and passengers were all affected (how could they not be?) and some lived with the disgrace of their actions during and after the sinking. A couple sought to profit from the notoriety of the Titanic accident. Others shut down completely and couldn’t bear any reminder whatsoever. There were 10 suicides, from both crew and passengers.

The book notes that for many people, remembering the sounds of the sinking affected them the most. For Frank Goldsmith, who was a nine-year-old third-class passenger at the time, he couldn’t take his kids to a baseball game because the roar of the crowd reminded him of that April night.

The book also delves into the characters of some of the more famous passengers that night — Lady Duff Gordon, J. Bruce Ismay, Madeleine Astor, the Thayers and Eva Hart. You hear their stories of what happened afterward.

Overall, Wilson says, many people involved with the Titanic suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I wonder if the treatment of PTSD had been more advanced in that era, could more people have recovered from the permanent mental effects of the Titanic disaster? Maybe.

What an enormous relief it must have been to see the Carpathia coming closer and closer. I’m glad that the Carpathia provided comfort to the Titanic passengers during the rescue. The crew certainly did their best to provide practical comfort with hot drinks, first aid, blankets and pillows; history shows that Captain Rostron and the crew did their best.

The Carpathia passengers also rose to the occasion by providing food, drink and spare clothing. I’m thinking that they also listened sympathetically to those who wanted to talk and maybe helped the Titanic passengers to start coming to terms with the sinking.

There’s an image I like of five Titanic passengers on board the Carpathia. Two men sit quietly to one side on a covered bench that’s in the sunshine, while three others (one man, two women) are talking together. According to Web sources, says it’s first-class passengers George and Dorothy Harder talking with Mrs. Clara Hayes or Sallie Beckwith. The Harders look intent and sympathetic; maybe they said something before or after the photo to comfort her. I hope so.

Whether you’re a history lover, a Titanic buff or interested in psychology, this book is a good read.

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11 Comments

Filed under Writing

11 responses to “Shadow of the Titanic

  1. Servetus

    I’ve been seeing lately all these links (that I am resolutely not clicking on) about how there’s a new theory about the sinking that doesn’t involve an iceberg?

    re: sympathy — its expression is conditioned not only by history but also by cultural standards (e.g., what is considered an appropriate or helpful expression of sympathy is quite different in the UK), so I suspect it depended a lot on where the Carpathia passengers came from.

  2. Sounds fascinating! I can’t believe that’s an aspect of the Titanic disaster I never considered before.

    • Me either! The actual sinking has been discussed in many ways, but there isn’t as much material on the PTSD in regard to the Titanic passengers and crew. Which makes the book that much more fascinating.

  3. I’m also a bit of a fan of the Titanic story. I don’t think any amount of drugs and/or therapy can overcome that level of trauma. Some of the survivors deserved the guilt they felt. They WERE guilty.

    I’m going to try to read this one. it sounds like a good one. Thanks! I’m always looking for a good book to read.

  4. Thomas Harry’s poem “Convergence of the Twain” explores the Titanic sinking with a startling perspective

  5. Interesting book and a great poem, although it excited some critical commentary at the time. I’ll have to hope my library has a copy of the book.

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