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 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 Click To Tweet
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?
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.
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.
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.