Shadow of Titanic: extraordinarily true stories

New Delhi: The echoes of the fateful night of April 15, 1912 reverberated through the lives of each of the 705 survivors of the Titanic tragedy, some of whom had a premonition that something was going to happen and a few others a trifle selfish as they preferred to be saved first, says writer Andrew Wilson.

His "Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived" sheds new light on the enduring story by showing how the disaster continued to shape the lives of a cross-section of passengers who escaped the sinking ship.

"When I was commissioned to write the book I set myself a challenge: could anything new be written about the Titanic. All the previous Titanic stories end with the rescue ship, the Carpathia, sailing into New York harbour.

"I started from this position of curiosity and then discovered that there was a great deal of unpublished material – survivor accounts in the form of letters, diaries, memoirs – held by the National Maritime Museum in London," he says.

"It was a treasure trove, a real find, and I use it to form the basis of the book. Then I tracked down the relatives and friends of those who survived and I also interviewed Millvina Dean, the last Titanic survivor, before her death. The research was a joy to do – it was like being a detective," Wilson told PTI in an interview.

He says some people on the majestic liner had some premonition that this was going to be their last journey.

"Some survivors did testify to feeling uneasy and anxious on board the ship. First class passenger Edith Rosenbaum, later Russell, did not feel at ease on the ship, despite its glamour, while second class passenger Esther Hart – who was travelling with her husband and seven year old daughter, Eva – stayed awake each night because she had a premonition that something was going to happen to the ship.

"She later said that had the family gone to sleep they would never have stood such a chance of surviving – of course, her husband wasn`t allowed in the lifeboat and she was one of the many Titanic widows."

Then there were some passengers who preferred to be saved first during rescue operations.

"Just as the crew were lowering lifeboat five – Dr Henry William Frauenthal – overweight and wearing two lifejackets – together with his brother and two other men – jumped down into the boat. As Frauenthal landed he hit first class passenger Annie May Stengel and broke two of her ribs and rendered her unconscious," says Wilson, who also is the author of the critically-acclaimed "Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith", "The Lying Tongue" and "Harold Robbins: The Man Who Invented Sex".

So, how is this book, published by Simon & Schuster, different from an array of books that have come out?

"It`s the first book to look at the aftermath of the sinking, how the echoes of that night continued to be felt throughout the 20th century. One chapter is called the dark side of survival and focuses on how the sinking affected the lives of its survivors in a negative way – for instance, ten survivors went on to commit suicide after the disaster, and many others suffered mental illness and disturbance. My book is the first that looks at the enormous shadow the disaster cast over the lives of the survivors and it is written using a wealth of unpublished, new material."