Frances Wilson's books include Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers and The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life, which won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize.
From a Q & A about her latest book, How to Survive the Titanic: The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay, with Randy Dotinga of the Christian Science Monitor:
Q: What drew you to Ismay's story?--Marshal Zeringue
A: I'm drawn as a writer to complicated people and to trauma, and what struck me about Ismay was the extraordinary strangeness of his behavior, that he behaved in the exact opposite of the way that other men of his background were expected to behave.
I wondered what it was like it for him, why he made that snap decision to save his own life.
Q: What did he do when the ship sank?
A: His version of events is rather different from other people's versions. Ismay says he helped to load eight lifeboats on the starboard side of the ship, filling the last lifeboats with women and children. When the deck was completely empty, he jumped in.
What some other people say is that he fought his way in, had to battle his way in. People say he got into first lifeboat and didn't help fill any lifeboats. And some people say he was ordered into a lifeboat.
What interested me was not judging him. He was very judged at the time. I was trying to understand how he judged himself, in the story he told himself about whether he justified his actions.
Q: What was the American public's reaction to his survival?
A: The American reaction was...[read on]