Cover image for The myth of the Titanic
The myth of the Titanic
Howells, Richard Parton.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xii, 213 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
G530.T6 H68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The first critical analysis of the Titanic as modern myth, this book focuses on the second of the two Titanics. The first was the physical Titanic, the rusting remains of which can still be found twelve thousand feet below the north Atlantic. The second is the mythical Titanic which emerged just as its tangible predecessor slipped from view on 15 April 1912. It is the second of the two Titanics which remains the more interesting and which continues to carry cultural resonances today. The Myth of the Titanic begins with the launching of the 'unsinkable ship' and ends with the outbreak of the 'war to end all wars'. It provides an insight into the particular culture of late Edwardian Britain and beyond this draws far greater conclusions about the complex relationship between myth, history, popular culture and society as a whole.

Author Notes

Richard Howells teaches Communications Studies at the University of Leeds, England.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

In this scholarly and heavily documented study, Howells (communications, Univ. of Leeds) proposes that the sinking of the Titanic was "an event whose mythical significance has eclipsed its historical importance." His work, in typical dissertation style, proceeds with an almost painful thoroughness from historical background to examination of the relationship between myth and history to close analyses of the popular texts, beliefs, and cultural assumptions from which the Titanic myth has evolved. The primary focus of these analyses is on materials generated in British popular culture from 1912 to 1914. Howells concludes that the story of the Titanic disaster, like earlier tales of hubris and nemesis, mergesÄin the interests of cultural rather than historical truthÄactual and imaginary experience as a means of constructing not only "triumph out of tragedy" but also "order out of an arbitrary world." Recommended for larger public and academic libraries.ÄRobert C. Jones, Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Howells's short, disappointing book delivers less than its title promises. Howells explores the representations of the Titanic disaster only from 1912 to 1914, and even within this limited chronology he excludes a variety of relevant materials such as accounts from popular newspapers. Despite an impressive bibliography, the author relies heavily on two sources from the period to establish his often modest points. In one chapter, for example, he argues that the cry "Women and Children First" became an important myth of the Titanic, though he also acknowledges that the phrase embodied a verifiable truth. He devotes an entire chapter to the frequently dramatized story that the band played while the ship sank, but concerns himself at length with the specific musical selections they performed. Disorganized and repetitive, Howells often sails off on tangents, as in his conclusion, where he brings the reader back with the apt question "What, though, is the point of all this?" With strict editing, this monograph might form the first chapter of the far more engrossing book suggested by the current title. Upper-division undergraduates. D. L. LeMahieu; Lake Forest College

Table of Contents

A Brief History of the Titanic
Myth and the Titanic
"Women and Children First!"
"We Shall Die Like Gentlemen"
"Be British!"
"Nearer, my God, to Thee."
"The Unsinkable Ship"