Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Titanic and the First Cabin Ladies

Katie O'Reilly is no lady.

At least, not a first cabin lady. When Katie boards the Titanic at Queenstown, Ireland with a third class ticket clutched in her hands, she's running away from an unjust charge of larceny in the great house where she was in service.

But Katie has aspirations to be a lady, not a lady's maid.

She discovers there's much to be learned about these first cabin ladies with their silk gowns and dazzling jewels.

Just who were these society ladies and what was their life like aboard the ship of dreams?

Newspapers of the day reported how these women, I mean, ladies, whiled away the days at sea gossiping and dressing numerous times a day while vying with each other for positioning in the social ladder.

However, the world of 1912 was on the verge of change. The Triangle Fire in 1911 made society take notice of unsafe conditions for garment factory workers; women of all classes were engaged in the suffragette movement; and the fad for "dollar princesses" (wealthy American debutantes who married British lords who needed cash) was waning by the time King Edward VII died in 1910.

The Titanic took no heed of these changes and was known for its luxury and wealthy passengers. On board "the ship of dreams," we find a fascinating entourage of first cabin ladies who make cameo appearances in Katie's story:

Mrs. John Jacob Astor, eighteen-year old pregnant bride of the forty-seven-year old millionaire.

Mrs. J.W. Cardeza, wealthy society lady and noted yachtswoman.

Lady Duff Gordon, leading fashion designer.

Mrs. J.J. Brown (Unsinkable Molly Brown), who will have her own post in the future.

I was also fascinated by the fact that Benjamin Guggenheim was traveling with one of his mistresses, Mademoiselle Aubart known as "Ninette. What is even more interesting is that this first cabin lady and her maid both survived.

Guggenheim did not.

Afterward, Mlle. Aubart filed a claim to the White Star Line for her possessions lost aboard the Titanic, which included twenty-four dresses, gloves, opera glasses, jewels, twenty-four pairs of shoes and twelve sets of knickers.

My heroine, Katie Reilly, has one pair of shoes.

And one pair of knickers.

And a cotton chemise.

Captain Lord Jack Blackthorn doesn't care whether she wears silk or cotton:
His pulse quickened when he remembered how she’d looked at him. In her plain cotton chemise, she was beautiful to him, her deep auburn hair shimmering an unbelievable red, her mischievous green eyes, an oval-shaped face with a pretty, pink mouth.
Isn't that what it's all about?

No comments: