April 18, 2018
The Titanic’s fate was predicted by two nineteenth-century novels, but my heart will go on
by Alex Primiani
Yes, it’s true: fact is stranger than fiction. But what do you call fiction that predates fact in its truthiness? For Business Insider, Áine Cain looks at the two fictionalized stories that predicted the sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic.
In 1886, the spiritualist and investigative journalist W.T. Stead’s short story “How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid Atlantic, by a Survivor” was published in the Pall Mall Gazette. Stead’s protagonist, a sailor named Thompson, spends much of the story worrying about the paucity of lifeboats on the 700-passenger voyage. In what might be described as meta-foreshadowing, the steamer collides with a smaller boat in some Atlantic fog and quickly starts sinking. Chaos leads the passengers to scramble for the safety of the lifeboats, but hundreds are left to die on board. (Thompson gets lucky and survives.)
Cain quotes the last line of the story, which finds Stead presciently noting, “This is exactly what might take place and what will take place if the liners are sent to sea short of boats.” What’s most horrifying is that Stead himself lost his life on the Titanic … not so prescient after all, huh Stead?
Morgan Robertson’s “The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility” was released in 1898, fourteen years before the real Titanic sank. It’s even more prophetic than Stead’s story — the parallels between the fates of Robertson’s Titan and the actual ship would give anyone goosebumps!
Cain writes, “Like the Titanic, the Titan was described as the largest ship afloat at the time. In fact, the sizes and lengths of
the ships are quite close, as well as the speed at which they crash into the iceberg. Both liners have a dangerous shortage of lifeboats. In the story, the Titan was both dubbed ‘unsinkable,’ and proceeded to sink on a cold April night.”
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.