book review

Review: “Titanic Survivor” by Violet Jessop

Jessop, Violet. Titanic Survivor 
edited and annotated by John Maxtone-Graham
Sheridan House, 1997
Hardcover, 238 pages
ISBN 1-57409-035-6

Violet Jessop went to sea as a stewardess on an ocean liner in 1908. She continued as a stewardess through the glory days when a transatlantic ship crossing was as much a society event as a mode of transportation. She retired at age 63 in 1950, long after traveling by ship had ceased to be chic. During her career Violet Jessop lived through three ocean disasters: (1) the September 1911 collision of HMS Hawke with Olympic, (2) the foundering of Titanic in 1912, and (3) the sinking of the hospital ship Britannic during World War I.

But the reader who picks up this book expecting a gripping first-person account of the sinking of Titanic will be disappointed. Jessop treats that experience in a mere two or three pages. She dismisses the sinking of Britannic in a couple of pages and doesn’t even mention the collision between Hawke and Olympic.

From our current historical perspective, it’s easy to judge that the most important event in Violet Jessop’s life was her presence on board Titanic. But for Violet the best part of her life was her early childhood, before her father’s death, in South America. Her book tells in lovingly remembered detail of her days on the Pampas, before her father’s illness and early death sent the family back to England and into financial need. Violet went into service on a ship not because of the glamour of the work, but because it was a job that required little education.

Violet, who lived from 1887 to 1971, completed this manuscript in 1934, probably for some contest that she apparently did not win. Her nieces discovered the manuscript after her death and submitted it to Sheridan House for publication in 1996. This book will hold little interest for anyone other than historians or boat buffs.

© 1999 by Mary Daniels Brown

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