Tag Archives: developmental editing

Editing Titanic Survivor

In 1970, while researching his first book, The Only Way to Cross, about ocean liners, John Maxtone-Graham, was looking for Titanic survivors to interview, and his mother mentioned to him a stewardess named Violet Jessop, whom she had encountered in the 1920s. The quotations in this blog post are from Jessop’s memoir, Titanic Survivor, which Maxtone-Graham edited. His notes provide an inside look at developmental editing of a promising project.

Jessop had served on the Titanic and on that ship’s sisters, Olympic and Britannic. Besides experiencing the Titanic disaster, she was on the Olympic when it collided with the cruiser Hawke and was on board Britannic as a nurse during World War I when it struck a mine and sank in the Aegean.

Until meeting John Maxtone-Graham, “she had never talked to a reporter, journalist or historian before.…

“In the spring of 1996, Margaret Meehan and her sister Mary submitted the manuscript of an unpublished memoir that their aunt, Violet Jessop, had completed in 1934.” Under a pen name, “it had been submitted for ‘a literary competition,’ nature undisclosed; one can only assume it had been rejected.…

“Let me share some thoughts about the manuscript … It is largely well-written, dutifully organized and, as any good memoir should be, redolent of the author’s spirit and persona. Much of Violet’s prose flows beautifully and she knows how to tell a good yarn.” Never before, to his knowledge, had an ocean liner stewardess written her memoirs. “… This is the greatest plus of all, that an articulate witness to memorable maritime events—one of which has fascinated the world ever since—has left an unique record.

“Violet did not title her chapters, an omission that I have remedied … Moreover, she has provided perhaps more chapter divisions than seem necessary; but, after careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that they should be left as was.… Often, I wish she had lingered over the detail she either neglects or dismisses with no more than a passing reference.“

She did not mention the Olympic’s collision with the Hawke, “even though she was on the White Star liner at the time.

“But, overall, the pluses far outweigh the minuses. Throughout the manuscript, I have sought to sustain the narrative pace. The childhood chapters about Argentina had to be cut in the interest of space. I not only Americanized the spelling, I had occasionally to adapt some of her more picturesque usage for Americans.… Violet describes her shipboard position as ‘not a swanker,’ in place of which I substituted ‘not prestigious.’

“Scattered amongst the chapters, I have offered editorial input, clarifying, and occasionally amplifying historical data …”

It’s not often that a book comes with an explanation of how it was edited. For editors, the book is valuable for that reason alone. But it also is an interesting book, especially for anyone with an interest in the Titanic or maritime history.

Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters by Violet Jessop, introduced, edited, and annotated by John Maxtone-Graham (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Sheridan House, 1997), 219 pp.