Titanic

West Sussex County Times Article

This Sunday, 15 April, will be the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  The loss of 1,514 lives after the ship hit an iceberg on her maiden voyage to New York remains one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history.

Quite apart from such loss of life, many other factors have contributed to an enduring fascination with this tragic story.

The looming, deadly iceberg, unseen until 45 seconds before the ship struck it.

The size and opulence of the liner, a sensation at the time.  The scale of Titanic was brought home to me when I saw the huge dock in Belfast in which she was built.

The hubris of the (alleged) declaration that the ship was unsinkable, and the provision of lifeboats for only a third of the passengers.

And the nod to British stoicism with the popular belief that the band played on as the ship went down.

But what really appears to capture the public imagination today is the story of class that pervaded the tragedy - a divide played upon by James Cameron's epic film and, more recently, by the apparent translation of Downton Abbey to sea.

Yet the facts are discomforting.  Less than a third of those aboard survived the disaster.   But although only 3 per cent of women travelling first class were lost, over half of those in third class died.

The bodies of first class passengers were later recovered from the water, but third class passengers and crew were buried at sea.

Perhaps such class distinction fascinates us precisely because today we live in a meritocratic society where such differing treatment of citizens would be unacceptable.

Yet the issue of class still surfaces in our political debate in a way which would bemuse others.

One of the Republican contenders for the US Presidency has said: "As Americans we're not defined by class, and we will never be told our place.  What makes our nation exceptional is that anyone, from any background, can climb the highest of heights."

I hope that in our country class divides now only feature in period dramas, and that in today's Britain, too, no-one has a place, and anyone can climb - by their own efforts - to the highest of heights.


Document type

Articles

Published

12 April 2012

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