The Dressmaker

The DressmakerI was always fascinated by the story of the Titanic and her tragic fate ever since I was a little girl.  When I heard about this novel, I thought it might give me an idea of how things could have went down, even though it is fictionalized.  This book is not only about the Titanic but about the well known British fashion designer, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, who actually survived the sinking of the ship.
The more unfortunate reality of the situation is that she had apparently saved her skin but did not allow others to join her rather empty raft, which carried her husband and several other passengers.  Alcott’s novel focuses on what happens to Lucy Gordon and her secretary (or in this case, her maid and later seamstress) once they are safely on American soil.
Tess Collins is the maid who is hired by Gordon last minute, just before they go on board the Titanic in England.  We see the complicated relationship that forms between them throughout the book and how Tess struggles to be on Gordon’s side, despite the fact that she wasn’t a witness to what happened on the lifeboat in question.
We also see how Tess must decide between being in high society or choose a simpler, quieter life.  She is tested with these decisions in two ways: by choosing the right man for herself and also determining whether she should stay with Gordon’s franchise or spread her own wings in design, by going solo.  When Tess is on the ship, she meets two men who are equally charming yet from different classes of society: the older gentleman from Chicago, who is a millionaire (Mr. Jack Bremerton) and the young sailor, who is part of the ship’s crew (Jim Bonney).  She eventually begins to realize which man she favors in terms of her outlook on life.
As for her support of Gordon, Tess is constantly reminded of how she should tread carefully—with the help (or interference) of reporter/journalist, Pinky Wade from The Times.  A friendship blossoms between the two young ladies and Pinky also becomes a link to the relationship that is forged between Jim and Tess.
We meet Gordon’s younger sibling, Elinor, who comes up with a way to save her sister’s dignity (if not reputation) by getting Tess to understand why Gordon acts the way she does.  As well, we get a sneak peek at how the case of the Titanic was viewed by the U.S. Inquiry, which is certainly entertaining and intriguing.  Alcott uses many of the real dialogues from transcripts of the real case to use in her story when survivors are being questioned in the novel.  The women’s suffragist parade takes place in the book too, so there are never any dull moments.
Even 100 years after the marked event,  this tale will undoubtedly leave you feeling sympathy for those who never made it alive and force you to contemplate how many more could have survived if there were people willing to help others in need, instead of being selfish and panicking.  This is the first novel that I have read about the Titanic and I have to say I really enjoyed it.  It is a nice mix of history and fiction that dives into what happened during the Titanic’s final hours and the people who survived—including the nasty consequences for some of them.

If you are a member of the library, we have this title in a few formats:
Hard copy (F A3552d)
Large Type (LTF A3552d)

If you liked The Dressmaker, we have other books that were written under Alcott’s real name, Patricia O’Brien:
Harriet and Isabella (F O1355h)
The Glory Cloak (F O1355g)
The Candidate’s Wife (F O1355)

To read reviews on The Dressmaker, please click on the links below.
From The Washington Post:

From The Huffington Post:

For information about Kate Alcott, click below:

Discussion Questions
Here are some questions that you may want to answer:

-Tess and Pinky are both smart, competent women who experience moments of both conflict and companionship with one another.  What ultimately draws them together and bonds their friendship?
-How would you argue Lucille’s case?  Compare her treatment to that of celebrities of our own time who get caught in controversy.

To look at the other questions, please refer to the link from the LitLovers website:

Interesting Tidbit:
When I saw that Lady Lucile Duff Gordon was featured in the book, I was kind of confused.  I thought she had died way before the Titanic ever set sail—and from what I knew, she was no designer.  Then I realized that there were in fact two Lucile Duff Gordons.  The one I was familiar with was the writer who lived from 1821-1869 and who was the topic in Kate Pullinger’s novel The Mistress of Nothing.  If you wanted to know more information about the Lucile Duff Gordon who survived the Titanic, you can click on the link below:

This book reminded me of …
I still couldn’t help but think of the title mentioned above that focused on the other Lucile Duff Gordon.  Indeed it is quite neat to see how in The Mistress of Nothing, the relationship between that Gordon and her mistress is very similar to the one that forms between Tess and the designer Gordon.   It is funny that both stories have a Lady Lucile Duff Gordon who share the same kind of personality and who have troubled relations with their helpers.  A more recent novel that I thought about was The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan.  Of course, just the issues of surviving a sinking boat and having the survivors fight for their right to live is an obvious reason to think of it.

Favorite quote from book:
“She plunged her hands in deeper, shivering at the light silky touch of the fabrics.  How could she describe it?  They were the consistency of foaming cream.  Fabrics she had never seen—delicate as cobwebs, silvery gold, some as blue as the deepest water, all artfully twisted and looped and draped.  This was heaven!” (p. 22)

Most unexpected moment in the story:
I really didn’t foresee the letter that Lucile receives from Jean Darling.  The information of the dancer’s husband (Jordan) in the note, took me by surprise and saddened me. (p. 155)

Next month’s title:
The Language of Flowers  by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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2 Responses to The Dressmaker

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