2012. Doubleday. 306 pp. (Includes Author’s Note)
I love historical fiction, and good reads like “The Dressmaker” will keep me on the historical fiction bandwagon for a long, long time. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which is when Alcott came out with this wonderful book. Her Author’s Note explains the historic facts upon which it’s based, which came as a big surprise to me as I had no idea these events had transpired.
Her story opens in France where Tess, a young seamstress working as a maid while not being paid for her sewing skills, is disgruntled with her lot in life. Deciding to take a bold step, she abruptly quits her job and gets herself hired as a maid for the famous dressmaker Lady Duff Gordon on the beautiful new ship Titanic heading off on its maiden voyage. Excited about the future, Tess is sure she won’t be a maid forever and will get a chance to prove her dressmaker skills to Lady Duff. On board she meets a very handsome sailor, Jim Booney, and the equally handsome millionaire Jack Bremerton. Only a few days later, the Titanic meets its destiny and she finds herself adrift at sea with the rest of the survivors.
She and Jim are reunited on the rescue ship Carpathia, where she learns disturbing news about what really happened that fateful night on Lady Duff’s lifeboat. Loyal to her employer, despite some misgivings, Tess soon finds herself embroiled in the Titanic Disaster Hearings where Jim’s testimony puts Lady Duff and her husband Cosmo at the center of a nefarious scheme. Tess is confused about whether or not Lady Duff acted improperly, while her growing feelings for Jim and Jack, wondering about her own future as a dressmaker, and the demanding lifestyle required by Lady Duff fill her waking moments. She will have to make decisions that will affect the rest of her life, knowing she is part of a new breed of women in a brave new world.
The beautiful, original and historic New York Waldorf-Astoria is the setting for most of this excellently told story, where readers are regaled with stories of incredible bravery and courage contrasted with tales of cowardice from those on board the Titanic that fateful April night. In addition, readers aged 12 and older will learn historical information about women suffragists seeking the vote, clothing styles of the time, the difficulties faced by female journalists of the time and much, much more.
“The Dressmaker” comes HIGHLY recommended, and I look forward to reading more of Kate Alcott’s work (aka Patricia O’Brien.)