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The dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The dressmaker (edition 2011)

by Kate Alcott

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8237611,024 (3.43)1 / 61
Title:The dressmaker
Authors:Kate Alcott
Info:New York : Doubleday, c2011.
Collections:Your library
Tags:Read 2012, {cover-upload, Titanic, trials, survivors, guilt, love, journalists, fashion industry, social classes, . historical fiction, P.US states - New York, P.US cities - NYC, T.1911, Read, E.paper-softcover

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The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott


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Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
Oh, I wanted to like this, but even my fascination with the Titanic wasn't enough to make me enjoy this book. The characters are cardboard--Tess and Pinky, in particular, are quite Mary-Sue-esque--and the romance subplot is a complete cliche. The main plot is two-dimensional and not all that interesting. Frankly, I think the story behind the publication of the book is more compelling than the book itself. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
This was an audiobook that I downloaded from my library's electronic media site. I thought the narrator, Susan Duerden, was quite good especially with the American voices. Her British accents seemed a little too high class for the actual characters.

Tess Collins, a young English girl working as a maid in Cherbourg when the Titanic docks to take on passengers, decides that she is going to get on the boat. She hates working as a maid and what she really wants to do is design dresses. When she goes to the dock and recognizes the famous designer Lady Lucille Duff Gordon, who has just learned that her maid cannot accompany her, she offers herself for the position. Of course, everyone knows what happens to the Titanic in the mid-Atlantic. Tess survives as do the Duff Gordons but there is some secret about what occurred in the life boat in which the Duff Gordons spent the night before rescue. There were only about a dozen people in the life boat that could have held five times that number. Tess is friends with one of the seamen who was in the boat, Jim Bonnie, and she knows he holds the Duff Gordons in contempt. Once they reach New York City Tess is swept up in the magic of the life led by the Duff Gordons and especially by the excitement of getting ready for a showing of Lady Lucille's new collection. It seems like everything Tess has ever wished for is about to come true. However, reports in the newspapers and then testimony at the Senate hearings convened quickly after the sinking start to show the feet of clay of Lady Lucille. It is a tumultuous time in New York City. There are even scenes of suffragette marches. Tess has some difficult decision to make about her future.

One of the best characters in this book is based on a person who did exist, the woman who came to be known as the Unsinkable Molly Brown. A wealthy woman from Colorado who never forgot her humble beginnings she calls a spade a spade and doesn't flinch from anything. I may have to look out for a book just about her. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jul 30, 2016 |
I really wanted to like this book because the concept was so interesting, but the writing just wasn't there to support it. The story centers on Tess Collins, a young service woman from England desperate to start a new life as a dressmaker in America. Her ticket comes in the form of Lucile Duff Gordon, the famous clothing designer who hires her on as a maid and books her passage with her on the Titanic. Although they both survive the sinking, the real challenges begin when they land in America.

Tess, along with her two love interests and best friend, are rather flat, with unclear motivations that make it hard to care about their choices. Tess keeps talking about how hard she'll work to make her dreams come true, but seems unwilling to put in even a day's work without complaining about how much she hates being ordered around. Sometimes she comes off as a milksop, others as priggish. This could have been a much better book if the characters had clear and consistent goals and motivations. As it is, everything is a bit muddled and stretched to fit the historical framework, which while interesting, isn't quite enough. ( )
  Tess_Elizabeth | Jun 19, 2016 |
Recommended by Laurie, listened to audio.
( )
  KathyGilbert | Jan 29, 2016 |
We all know of the Titanic, the Unsinkable Ship that struck and iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912. The ship, touted as the greatest ship ever built has had numerous novels written about it - and the eponymous film we've seen so many times made about it. What most of us don't know is what after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. That's where The Dressmaker comes in.

Tess Collins' is looking for a way to escaping working for the family that employs her when she runs to the docks the day the Titanic is disembarking from Cherbourg. She manages to finagle her way into working for the famous Lady Lucile Doff Gordon as a maid - for now. Tess knows how to sew, not be a maid, but will do whatever it takes to start a new life.

The firs part of the book is filled with Tess and Lady Duff Gordon, "Madame's" life onboard the Titanic. Readers are introduced to many of the same characters they may already be familiar with from some other semi-fictional Titanic themed works: Isidor Straus, Margaret Brown, the Astors, and of course, Cosmo Duff Gordon as well as characters unique to The Dressmaker. The first class workings of the ship are also (minimally) introduced.

The sinking of the ship occurs rather quickly. Yet, not at all, without emotion. While there is so much of the novel left that you know that at least some of these main characters are going to survive the sinking, it still puts a hitch in your throat to read.

Where Titanic left viewers with Rose arriving safely in New York, in The Dressmaker that is really just where Tess' journey begins. This novel delves into the hearings that were held, investigating what happened on the Titanic - who, if anyone, was to be held accountable and really shows the different ways different survivors reacted. Both to simply surviving as well as to how and/or why they did survive.

It's is definitely a side of the RMS Titanic tragedy that is rarely examined in fiction and I greatly enjoyed it being a part here. Especially as it ran parallel (yet also a great part of) to Tess attempting to begin that new life she was so bound and determined to start that day on the docks.

What is truly fantastic about The Dressmaker - aside from the fictional aspects that are a part of it - is that very, very few if any of the characters are identifiable as good or bad. The characters are so many shades of gray that it's hard to really decide which to side with. Some of it, sure, is the situation. After such a traumatic event it's hard to dislike even those that appear to have made questionable decisions but it also makes it easier to forgive the seeming 'good' guys who do some odd things or believe in the 'bad' guys who do a good thing.

The characters were incredibly human in that regard. There was no set good guy with a halo over their halo or an identifiable devil (at least not among the main characters). It was nice that the morality and decisions of most of the characters seemed murkier than dishwater most of the time.

Kate Alcott's novel not only gives us a marvelous glimpse into what happened after the Carpathia docked, but also what 1914 New York was like - for women, in fashion, as a city. It's a remarkable novel, that I really enjoyed.

(thank you to the publisher for my arc)
  BookSpot | May 18, 2015 |
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To Frank, always.
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Tess pulled at the corners of the sheets she had taken straight from the line and tried to tuck them tight under the mattress, stepping back to check her work.
…mostly poor people died, and mostly rich people were saved; that was the fact of it.
...that accepting the reality of my decision is what is important. I can’t forgive my actions, or the actions of another. The rashness of a moment changed my life ...
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Book description
Tess, a young seamstress working for designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, survives the sinking of the RMS "Titanic," and finds herself torn between loyalty to her employer and to the sailor who saved her when Lady Duff Gordon's version of their escape differs from the truth.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385535589, Hardcover)

The Most Famous Designer You’ve Never Heard Of
An Essay by Author Kate Alcott

Let me introduce you to the most famous designer you’ve never heard of—a fiery red-head named Lucile Duff Gordon, who in the early years of the twentieth century was the one of the top names in the fashion world. Lucile was famous for her diaphanous, floating fabrics in soft colors that freed women from the corsets of the nineteenth century. Her clothes were worn by royalty, high society women and glamorous movie stars alike.

But Lucile, herself, was a very tough lady.

When I first “met” Lady Duff Gordon in the course of researching The Dressmaker, I thought she was one of the most imperious and unlikeable women I had come upon in years. I wondered: do I really want to write about her? Is she too much of an obnoxious type?

Nobody was allowed to stand in her way to success. The people who worked for her were indeed terrified half the time. “Madame” was mercurial and prone to fire anyone who did not do her bidding instantly. Rules and propriety were for other people. She thought nothing, so it is reported, of spitting her gum (which she chewed often and with relish) out of a window at her New York loft, ignoring the possibility that it might land on a passerby (which it did once, prompting an angry woman with gum in her hair to storm the loft and demand an apology. She didn’t get it.)

I decided to leave that vignette out. My readers would hate Madame before the story got going.

And yet the longer I thought about Lucile, the more I saw her as one of the more amazingly determined women of her time. (Maybe on a par with Elinor Glyn, her sister, who, in order to stay attractive in Hollywood, was daring enough to have one of the very first face lifts ever.) Lucile reigned supreme in the designing world at a time when few women had the savvy to propel a business to success.

How ironic then that the most indelible image of her doesn’t stem from the fact that she was the most famous dress designer in the world, but from the fact that—as a passenger on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic, escaping in a boat that held only twelve people—she refused to allow the crew members to row back and save others. In addition, her husband offered money to those crew members. As a bribe or simply a thank you?

Lucile’s boat was not the only one that didn’t go back, of course, but she made a plum target for the newspapers of the time. Nobody will ever know for sure what happened in Lifeboat One, but Lucile never quite escaped the shadow of the ensuing scandal. There were still some good years ahead – but her business began to weaken, made even more vulnerable when she lost a major legal battle involving a contract dispute.

Her one piece of irrefutable good luck? Three years after the Titanic went down, Lucile made a last minute cancellation for her reservation on a ship due to become as notorious as the Titanic – the Lusitania. The ship was destroyed by a German torpedo and sank in 1915. Twelve hundred people died.

Lucile died years later in 1935 at the age of 71, already forgotten, in an English nursing home. Her business went bankrupt in 1921.

But, oh, the clothes! I pored over pictures of them: ethereal Edwardian gowns hinting at female sensuality; bolder costumes for her Hollywood clients. They were magical, the kind of clothes I used to imagine wearing as a child when I wrapped myself in curtain remnants from my father’s textile factory, pretending to be a princess.

A few years ago, I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, hoping to see one of her gowns on display. I was disappointed to find that all they were showing was a dreary olive-drab, no-nonsense suit that Lucile designed for women during World War I. I stared at it, looking for some hint of the creativity of the woman I hoped to capture for my book, wondering what splendid examples might be locked away in the vaults of the museum. I wanted to see the billowy sleeves and scalloped hemlines; the layers of floating chiffon, mixing colors of blue and gold, silver and green. I wanted to see the laces, airy as a spider web, the satin ribbons – all of it.

Lucile would be furious that her best work wasn’t being shown. I could easily imagine her stomping out of the place, ranting and raving as underlings scurried about to correct what she would see as massive injustice. But for all of her tantrums and scenes, she was a complicated and immensely talented woman. Yes, the designer you never heard of.

And yes, I decided, I did want to write about her.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:06 -0400)

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"A vivid, romantic, and compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the sinking of the Titanic only to find herself embroiled in the tumultuous aftermath of that great tragedy."--from dust jacket

(summary from another edition)

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