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The Titanic: The First Modern Disaster – A guest post by Elizabeth Blackwell

Last month I posted about On a Cold Dark Sea, a novel by Elizabeth Blackwell that I really enjoyed.
I reached out to Elizabeth and discovered we both love the 1920s and the early XX century in general and we both think that time represent our uncertainty of today in almost a weaked way.

She was so kind as to accept to guest post here on my blog about what is the centre of her novel: the Titanic.


The RMS Titanic near completion at Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1911
The Titanic: The First Modern Disaster – A guest post by @eblackwellbooks – The Titanic was the first modern disaster. Its destiny was known all aroudn the world #Titanic #history Share on X

The Titanic: The First Modern Disaster

Why are still interested in the Titanic, a ship that sank more than 100 years ago? I thought about that question a lot while working my most recent book, On a Cold Dark Sea. I’ve been fascinated by the tragic story for years (even before the movie where we all fell in love with Leonardo DiCaprio). Why can’t I stop thinking about that terrible night in April 1912?

Replica of the New York American newspaper
for 16th April 1912 incorrectly showing Titanic
crashing head on into the iceberg

I think it’s because the sinking of the Titanic was in many ways the first modern disaster. The tragedy was covered in newspapers around the world, sparking a media frenzy that was similar to today’s internet sensations. The United States government immediately organized an investigation into why the ship sank, which led to even more media coverage. And many of the issues people argued about after the sinking are things we are still debating today.

For example—women’s rights. There wasn’t enough space in the lifeboats for all the passengers, so the crew followed the standard rule of “women and children first.” But this was also the era that women were fighting for the right to vote. If women really wanted to be equal, some commentators sneered afterward, shouldn’t they have declined such favoritism and died alongside their husbands?

Another issue that still resonates today is immigration. About one-third of the Titanic’s passengers were traveling in third class, the majority of them immigrants hoping for a fresh start in the United States. They came from more than a dozen countries, including Sweden, Ireland, Finland, Norway, Syria and Russia. Some people traveled alone; others came as part of large families. In 1912—much like today—there were debates about immigration. Debates about whether all those foreigners should be allowed into the U.S. and if they’d ever be able to adapt to American society.

Survivors of the Titanic row to the Carpathia-1912

Then the U.S. investigation revealed some shocking numbers. Although almost all the first and second-class women survived, half of the third-class women and two-thirds of the third-class children died. More than 50 men in first class—the ones who were supposed to give up their places for women and children—lived.

For most of human history, no-one would have thought twice about rich men being favored over poor children. But not after the Titanic. The fact that so many women and children died was an outrage—no matter where they came from, no matter how much money they had. It was a first, small step in seeing immigrants as people worthy of respect and sympathy, rather than just stereotypes.

On a Cold Dark Sea tells the story of three fictional women who survive the sinking of the Titanic: Esme, a rich American finds marriage isn’t what she expected; Charlotte, a Londoner and thief traveling under a false name; and Anna, a Swedish farm girl who is willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the people she loves. As I researched Anna’s story, I couldn’t help but think of all the brave young women who left their families and their homes to sail on the Titanic, hoping it would bring them to a better life.

  • Photo of a newsboy calls for the Titanic tragedy in the street.
  • Vintage photo of a group fo survivors from the Titanic, in Liverpool.
  • A group fo Titanic survivors on the docks.
  • A photo from 1912 of a room in the St Vincent's Hospital in New York, with people on the beds and sitting among them.
  • Engraving of the Titanic sinking after hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean - 1912
  • Original photo ofTitanic survivors boarding the Carpathia in 1912
  • Original photo of survivors of the Titanic showing an exhausted mother with her daughter sitting on a bench.
  • A photo from the early 1900s of officers inspecting newly arrived immigrants at Ellis Island.
  • A vintage photo ofImmigrants on line leaving Ellis Island waiting for ferry to N.Y.-ca-1900.
  • Picture from the 1910s showing a group of men sitting in a room.
  • Vintage photo ofDutch immigrants in the Canadian Railways Terminal Halifax Nova-Scotia
  • A mother with four children standing in fron of the camera at Ellis Island (early 1900s).
  • A Sicilian family with mother and three young children arriving at Ellis Island in 1908
  • Vintage photo from the early 1900s of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island.

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell is the author of On a Cold Dark Sea (Lake Union, 2018) and In the Shadow of Lakecrest (Lake Union, 2017). Follow her on Facebook (@ElizabethBlackwellBooks) and Twitter (@eblackwellbooks).

As the daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, Elizabeth Blackwell grew up in Washington, D.C., interspersed with stints in Africa, the Middle East and Europe–pretty much always with a book in hand. She majored in history at Northwestern University and received her master’s in journalism from Columbia University, which led to a career as an editor and writer for a number of publications that have since gone out of business. She now writes fiction from her home office in the Chicago suburbs, in between wrangling her three children and fighting for a parking spot at the local Target.

Official site | Facebook | Tritter

Pinteret pin. The text reads, "Titanic 1012 - The first modern disaster (guest post by Elizabeth Blackwell)". The picture shows a photo of one of a crowded lifeboat from the Titanic.
Pinteret pin. The text reads, "Titanic 1012 - The first modern disaster". The picture shows a photo of one of a crowded lifeboat from the Titanic.


  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted July 9, 2018 at 17:09

    This is so interesting! Thanks, both. The Titanic disaster still holds our imagination, even after more than one hundred years. And it’s interesting to see how our attitudes have and haven’t changed since then.

    • Post Author
      Posted July 9, 2018 at 22:01

      It one of those story that mix tragedy with romanticism. I mean, the gretest liner ever built sank by an iceberg on her maiden voyage. Not surprisingly so many stories have been written on it.
      There are so many other tragedies we hardly remember because they don’t have that same touch of romanticism.

  • Birgit
    Posted July 9, 2018 at 19:44

    I am in Vancouver for a vacation and yesterday I went to a Titanic exhibit with artifacts from the titanic itself! It was very well done and I was so happy to finally see an exhibit. I have always been fascinated by this ship and love reading about it. Congrats on a new book

    • Post Author
      Posted July 9, 2018 at 22:01

      Oh, my! I’m so jealous!! Must be fascinating.

  • Davida Chazan
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 10:02

    I also think Blackwell did a really good job with this novel. Thanks for this post!

    • Post Author
      Posted July 14, 2018 at 08:22

      I really enjoyed the novel and I loved the way it was structured. It really centered on the titanic more than many stories about the Titanic do.

  • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 18:05

    So interesting! I recently went to a Titanic exhibition in Southampton, where it sailed from. It was very well done.

    • Post Author
      Posted July 14, 2018 at 08:23

      You are the second person mentioning an exhibition abotu the Titanic. I never imagined it is still this popular a topic.

  • Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 01:42

    FAscinating piece. I need to read On a Cold Dark Sea!

    • Post Author
      Posted July 14, 2018 at 08:23

      It’s really a good story and the historical setting is fantastic!

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