Monday, May 28, 2012

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

  • Title: The Dressmaker: A Novel
  • Classification:  Adult Fiction
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st Printing edition (February 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0385535589
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385535588
  • Author's Website: n/a

Today was the day. Tess had made up her mind. She knew she was destined for something better, something more. She'd been working as a maid and knew it was time for a change. She'd been trained to be a seamstress, born to be one. It was in her blood. Her own mother had taught her. When she heard some jobs were opening up for a ship traveling to America she decided now was the time. She heard they were hiring, so she'd get a job, take a chance, and risk everything or nothing would ever change. So she took the plunge and handed in her notice and cut the ties with her now former employer and decided she would either sink or swim. By sheer chance, she is offered a position as a maid to one of the world's leading fashion designers. She took this as a sign her luck was finally changing. Unfortunately for her, the ship she was to board was the Titanic.

In the midst of tradgedy, in the midst of scandal. she'll emerge stronger, wiser and find herself.  She'll meet two men, each from very different backgrounds. One can offer her the world, the other only his love. Her life is at a crossroads and each choice offers her a slightly different path. One thing is for sure, she is determined to become a Dressmaker.

I love the fact Ms. Alcott decided to have her book come out at such a pivotal time--approximately 100 years after the Titanic's first and final voyage. I also love it when an author fuses their fictional stories into the bindings of historical events letting me learn something I had not previously known. The story is loosely based off events that happened on the historic voyage. Lady Duff Gordon, a well known fashion designer, and her husband, Cosmo, were scandalized for escaping in a lifeboat that had the fewest amount of survivors in it. Ms. Alcott took liberties with filling in gaps with her own imagination, adding some new characters and events, such as Tess, and changing things to suit her story. The story is by no means an accurate account of events that took place. Ms. Alcott did, however, include some of the actual testimonies from the hearings which took place to investigate the disaster.  

Tess Collins is a fun character. Can you imagine going off on your own in an attempt to find a better life and improve your situation? Even more admirable would be to do so by traveling to another country. I don't think I'd have the gumption to do so, even in today's modern world where woman can travel more freely. 

Lady Duff Gordon is a character trying to keep her head above water while being circled by sharks. She's worked her way to the top of the fashion world and will do whatever she can to stay there. Not portrayed as the most likable of characters, she is the one who has the power to get Tess' feet wet in the fashion industry. She is an interesting yet complicated character that seemed at times to have multiple personalities.

Pinky Wade, a reporter for the Times, befriends Tess and causes more problems than she solves. She creates friction between Tess and Lady Duff Gordon. As Tess is the employee of Lady Duff Gordon, I felt this was not exactly the best thing she could do for someone she calls 'friend'. She's determined and set in her ways and means well, but seems somewhat jaded in her views.

I originally thought this would be a romance, and while there is a touch of romance included, I'm labeling this one historical fiction. By the end I didn't really feel an attachment for either man and wasn't sure Tess should have picked either. Additionally, she was just at the beginning stages of a relationship and the main focus of the book was Tess and the balancing act she was doing while teetering between the upper and lower classes. I think the relationships with Jim and Jack sort of emphasizes the inner turmoil she was experiencing. Tess just needed to make up her mind where she fit in and ultimately she does. I think perhaps the underlying themes to the book are of woman struggling to make it in a male dominated society along with overcoming the barriers of social status. Overall, I gave this one 3 out of 5 roses. It was fun and sweet, but can't hold a candle to the story included in the movie titled 'Titanic'

Notes to keep you in the know:
There were many interesting stories surrounding the Titanic's tragic voyage. Many are listed on the Titanic's blog. To learn more about the titanic and some of her passengers chcek out RMS Titanic's website at:

Here is an account by the real Lady Duff Gordon on what she says happened that fateful night:

Here is an article that was written about a man dressing as a woman to escape death on the Titanic:

Picture of the Titanic:

Picture of the real Lady Duff Gordon (1863-1935) who inspired this FICTIONAL story.
Both the above and below pictures came for wikicommons and copyrights have expired on them.

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