The Wreck of the “Deutschland”

Patricia Beer writes:

Time brings many surprises, as I have long known, but I never imagined being excited by the news that the nun’s famous cry in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ was almost certainly not uttered by Sister Henrica Fassbaender. But in fact Sean Street’s book The Wreck of the Deutschland, which makes much of this incident, is engrossing from start to finish. It has the further appeal of sounding sympathetic. The author’s motivation throughout the fifteen years he devoted to assembling and deploying his material has clearly been an affectionate anxiety to tell the story fully and accurately rather than to expose people and call down vengeance upon them. His attitude to his chosen wreck is highly possessive, which naturally makes him very selective. Other appalling naval disasters, the blowing up of the Mosel at Bremerhaven, for example, affect him only in so far as they have some connection with the Deutschland. In this case, the Mosel is mentioned as being a sister-ship of the North German line which perished at about the same time.

(LRB 11 June 1992)