Art History in “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson

As the book gives a detailed account of both the lead up and aftermath of the Lusitania’s encounter with a U-boat’s torpedo, Larson gave well-rounded profiles of all the people involved in this tragedy.  He gives day-to-day accounts of the passengers living both seafaring vessels, especially one named Theodate Pope, an architect whose melancholy filled health kept her from fully taking on a career in designing buildings.  I neglected to mention this in my review of
Devil in the White City, but this is the second book in where Larson mentions women architects. Here, Larson provides a miniature biography of Pope’s life in the art world. He depicted her as practically living and breathing the French and English Modern art eras, plus having a correspondence with Mary Cassatt. She knew her art well, for Larson quoted her comparing a memory to a mezzotint. Amusingly, I noticed that Larson didn’t capitalize the I in “impressionist”. Another person deep in the arts figured heavily in the book, a man known as Charles Lauriat. Though he dealt in books and their artistic value, such as William Makepeace Thackeray’s visual art forays. As an (possibly) unintentional contrast to Pope’s Modern art preferences, Larson mentions Renaissance and Baroque Old Masters (plus one Impressionist) shipped in the Lusitania by Sir Hugh Lane, but no titles.  Works now lost to the world because of the U-Boat.
The rest of the book’s art history references consisted of architecture and an artist I had never heard of before. For example, one source compared the Lusitania’s size to Lincoln Cathedral. Another mentions St. Colman’s Cathedral in an attempt to add local color and character to a town. Tradition and modernity collide with mentions of Buckingham Palace, plus a place called Palm House and its relationship to the Crystal Palace. Regarding the artist I had never heard of before, Larson mentions a World War One era artist named Bernard Gribble and The Return of the Mayflower near the end that remembered America’s entry into World War One.  Quite a thrilling climax and an effective way to tie up a story.

By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with ship details, have a dictionary ready, for you will find yourself lost and confused.

Update 11-20-16:  Removed some sentences and an update.  I later realized that I didn’t like the final paragraph at all.  I also fixed a sentence.


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