The Legends Stay Afloat

New York Times Book Review

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DOWN TO ETERNITY.  By Richard O'Connor. 191 pp. New York:Gold Medal Books. 35 cents.
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By BURKE WILKINSON
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Anyone interested in the Titanic disaster will want to read this book, if only to compare it with Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember," now No. 2 on The Times best-seller list. Let it be said right off that there is not much similarity except in subject-matter. Where Mr. Lord built his almost over-powering suspense by a time-sense under perfect control and a sparing use of exact detail, Richard O'Connor succeeds in removing a good part of the drama from one of the most suspenseful nights in history.

Although it lacks cumulative excitement in its narrative, the book has considerable merit. Mr. O'Connor focuses on two passengers, each symbolic of the Edwardian Age that was ending that April night in 1912. One is Col. John Jacob Astor and the other is the "Unsinkable" Mrs. John J. Brown. Mr. O'Connor gives a lively pen portrait of each. The punch line on Mrs. Brown is a fair sampling of his style: "Social success may have gilded the Missouri Lily, but she was still Leadville Johnny Brown's unpredictable bride."

Supporting characters more exceptional to the "cozy sybaritism," as he terms it, of the Edwardians, include Isidor Straus and William T. Stead. the British editor. In addition, the first chapter gives thumbnail sketches of such travelers as Benjamin Guggenheim, artist Frank Millet, and Broadway's Henry B. Harris, "a prominent representative of that twilight world where art and commerce have their turbulent confluence." For the rest, this is a retelling of the first and last voyage of the most glamorous ship of her day, with frequent discursions, occasional bits of dialogue that have the ring of improvisation about them, and a good deal of interesting data about icebergs, early days of wireless and ship construction. Liberal quotations from survivor accounts add greatly to the value. It is to the credit of Gold Medal Books that they have brought out this second-best book in a limited field.

In "A Night to Remember" Walter Lord exploded two celebrated Titanic myths---the one about the band playing "Nearer My God to Thee," and the other about Mrs. Brown taking over her lifeboat with a cooked pistol. O'Connor revives and restores them. The final truth is that such legends will cling to the drowned hull of the great ship long after the facts are forgotten.
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Mr. Wilkinson's novels about the sea, include "Proceed at Will" and "Last Clear Chance."

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Acknowledgements

Mark Baber

Citation

Encyclopedia Titanica (2005) The Legends Stay Afloat (New York Times Book Review, Sunday 19th February 1956, ref: #4380, published 30 January 2005, generated 2nd August 2021 03:19:43 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-legends-stay-afloat.html