First edition, 1898
AuthorMorgan Robertson
CountryUnited States
Publication typeNovella
Publication date1898
TextFutility at Wikisource

Futility is a novella written by Morgan Robertson, first published in 1898. It was revised as The Wreck of the Titan in 1912. It features a fictional British ocean liner named Titan that sinks in the North Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg. The Titan and its sinking are famous for similarities to the passenger ship RMS Titanic and its sinking 14 years later. After the sinking of the Titanic the novel was reissued with some changes, particularly to the ship's displacement.[1]


The first half of Futility introduces the Titan, described as the longest and fastest ship in the world that is also considered unsinkable, and the hero John Rowland, a disgraced former US Navy officer who was dismissed from the service. Now an alcoholic, he works as a deckhand on the Titan.

One night, while sailing between America and Ireland, the Titan crashes into a smaller ship at full speed in fog, splitting it in half. Rowland, who witnessed the collision while on lookout, is offered a bribe by the captain for his silence, but refuses and vows to expose the deed once in port. The captain and the officers attempt to discredit Rowland's testimony by drugging him.

The next night, the ship hits an iceberg and capsizes, and only 13 people survive. Rowland saves the young daughter of a former lover by jumping onto the iceberg with her. The pair find a lifeboat washed up on the iceberg, and Rowland also fights and kills an attacking polar bear. They are rescued eventually by a passing ship and brought back to England.

Back in England, Rowland tells of the events of the voyage, including the destruction of the smaller ship, the attempted cover-up and drugging by the captain and officers (who have also survived) and the ordeal on the iceberg to an insurance underwriter responsible for insuring both ships. Rowland refuses to testify before court and instead goes to New York with the girl.

Once there, the girl is recovered by her mother and Rowland is arrested for her kidnapping. A sympathetic magistrate discharges him and rebukes the mother for being unsympathetic to her daughter's savior. Rowland then begins living alone.

In a brief final chapter covering several years, Rowland progresses from a homeless and largely anonymous fisherman to a desk job and finally, two years after passing a civil service exam, to "a lucrative position under the Government".[2]

The second edition of 1912, included a follow-up alternate ending: Rowland receives a letter from the mother (who congratulates him and pleads for him to visit her) and from the girl.[3]

Similarities to the Titanic

Although the novel was written before the RMS Titanic was even conceptualized, there are some uncanny similarities between the fictional and real-life versions. Like the Titanic, the fictional ship sank after wrecking on an iceberg in April in the North Atlantic Ocean, and there were not enough lifeboats for all the passengers. The Titan would have survived a head-on collision with the iceberg, but a glancing encounter did more extensive damage. There are also similarities in size (800 ft [244 m] long for the Titan versus 882 ft 9 in [269 m] long for the Titanic), speed, and life-saving equipment.[4] After the Titanic's sinking, some people credited Robertson with precognition and clairvoyance, which he denied. Scholars attribute the similarities to Robertson's extensive knowledge of shipbuilding and maritime trends.[5]

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ "The Titanic – Futility". History on the Net. 3 June 2014. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
  2. ^ Robertson, Morgan (1898). Futility. New York: M.F. Mansfield.
  3. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Wreck of the Titan, by Morgan Robertson". www.gutenberg.org. Retrieved 2024-02-02.
  4. ^ Roberts, Stephen (July 3, 2015). Titanic Foretold: The annotated version of Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan. Retrieved 2020-12-09.
  5. ^ Hasan, Heba (April 14, 2012). "Author 'Predicts' Titanic Sinking, 14 Years Earlier". Time. Retrieved 2019-11-28.

Further reading