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‘The Unsinkable Ship’

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Abstract

Greater even than the band playing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ is the myth of the Titanic as ‘the unsinkable ship’. Even today, we could be forgiven for taking this literally; it permeates contemporary popular culture just as it did in 1912. For many people, for example, James Cameron’s film ‘Titanic’ has been the mass provider of information about the ship. Released in Britain in 1998, it is a film whose historical accuracy has been widely assumed. When heroine Rose DeWitt Bukator’s mother looks up at the ship from Ocean Dock at Southampton and remarks, ‘So this is the ship they say is unsinkable’, we can be forgiven for assuming that this is exactly what everyone did say. ‘It is unsinkable,’ confirms Rose’s fiancé, ‘God himself could not sink this ship.’1

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Notes

  1. Charles Pellegrino, Her Name: Titanic (London, 1990), p. 2.

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  2. Personal visit to Titanic Historical Society, Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, 18 August 1992. See also John M. Groff and Jane E. Allen, The Titanic and Her Era, Philadelphia Maritime Museum (Philadelphia, 1982), p. 29. The wording is very similar: their booklet was published by the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, which at that time held much of the THS collection.

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  3. Ken Longbottom, ‘Twelve Popular Myths Concerning the Titanic Disaster’ in The Atlantic Daily Bulletin (Journal of the British Titanic Society), no. 3, 1993, pp. 14–15 p. 14. To be fair, this is not a scholarly article, but the contribution of an ‘enthusiast’ to an enthusiasts’ magazine. Nevertheless, the point still stands: there remains a large body of opinion (many of whom are in a position to know better) that the Titanic was never claimed to be unsinkable.

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  4. Don Lynch, ‘The “Unsinkable” Titanic, As Advertised: Another Great Myth Dispelled’ in The Titanic Commutator, volume 16, no. 4, February–April, 1993, pp. 4–6. I first noticed the leaflet in Geoff Robinson’s collection of Titanic memorabilia in April 1992, and it was the subject of correspondence between the two of us before the appearance of Lynch’s article the following year. The Commutator article is subsequently cited by Heyer (1995), p. 23.

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  5. Françoise Graziani, ‘Discoveries’ in Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Archetypes, edited by Pierre Brunel (London and New York, 1992), pp. 317–24, p. 318.

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  6. Yves-Alain Favre, ‘Narcissus’ in Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Archetypes, edited by Pierre Brunel (London and New York, 1992), pp. 867–71, p. 867.

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  7. Quoted by Raymond Trousson, ‘Prometheus’ in Companion to Literary Myths Heroes and Archetypes, edited by Pierre Brunel (London and New York, 1992), pp. 968–81, p. 970.

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  8. Clifford Geertz, ‘Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture’ in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973, London, 1975), pp. 412–53, p. 5.

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  9. For the full story of the Olympic, see Simon Mills, RMS Olympic: The Old Reliable (Blandford Forum, 1993).

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© 1999 Richard Howells

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Howells, R. (1999). ‘The Unsinkable Ship’. In: The Myth of the Titanic. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230510845_8

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