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The dressmaker by Kate Alcott
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The dressmaker (edition 2011)

by Kate Alcott

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5636817,691 (3.38)1 / 45
Member:countrylife
Title:The dressmaker
Authors:Kate Alcott
Info:New York : Doubleday, c2011.
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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 70 (next | show all)
It was wonderful. Sweeping, enthralling, and heart-breaking. It was a wonderful story. The author perfectly captures what had to have been a terrifying no-win situation. The will to survive and the inevitable fall-out for those who have to come to terms with the choices they made. This will take its place with some of my favorites. ( )
  reginacorley | Jul 8, 2014 |
The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott is the story of Tess Collins a young seamstress who agrees to work as Lady Duff-Gordon’s maid while aboard the Titanic in order to realize her dream of going to America to make her fortune. Lucille Duff-Gordon was a major dress designer of the day and seemed to be promising to give Tess a hand when they reached New York. While on board, Tess meets two men, one a rich American businessman and the other a poor young man working as a sailor for his passage.

Of course, we know that the Titanic did not reach New York, but in this book, all the main characters eventually turn up. Still under the wing of Lucille, Tess starts to work for the designer and is provided with a roof over her head. Meanwhile the shock and scandal of the sinking of this enormous passenger liner on her maiden voyage has the American government opening enquiries and investigations into what caused this disaster. As the witness testimonies are gathered, it is pointed out that some lifeboats were barely filled before they were launched. Also many accusations about the lifeboats not returning to search for survivors in the frigid waters came to light. Lord and Lady Duff-Gordon came in for heavy scrutiny as they were in a lifeboat that could have held up to forty people, yet there was only twelve people in it at the time of rescue. A rumour came to light about bribes being offered the sailors not to return to the search, and it was hinted that survivors that tried to cling to the lifeboat were pushed off.

I found this part of the book very interesting as I have read a great deal about the Titanic, but very little about the aftermath. Although there was never any hard evidence against them, the Duff-Gordons never recovered from the gossip nor did they regain their place in society. As to the romance part of the book, I found this rather more predictable and the character of Tess was a little too perfect to be convincing. I would have rather had Lucille Duff-Gordon as the main character as I found her, with all her flaws and arrogance, a much more interesting character.

My final verdict on this book is one of mixed feelings. I thought the details about the Titanic were authentic and interesting. The author scattered enough real people throughout her story to give it a feeling of the times. However, the love story part of the book didn’t enthrall me. Being torn between the rich, older man and the younger, earnest one was a familiar plot and as I felt no chemistry between any of the parties, the romance was sadly lacking. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Jun 21, 2014 |
I should first admit that I am not in the author's target audience for this book, as a lover of serious Victorian literature and histories. I picked it up on a whim at a local bookstore because I was looking for a light read and the cover spoke to my recent interest in Victorian/Edwardian fashion and dressmaking. The blurbs on the back promised a healthy dose of Titanic history and an exploration of the survivors' guilt that must have accompanied it, which sounded intriguing enough, so I dove in with cautious optimism.

My expectations were immediately checked when the prose offended one of my pet peeves: period British characters with modern American dialect and attitudes. *Big sigh.* But the quick pace and readability kept me reading long enough to get over that disappointment, and I'm glad I did.

The book follows several passengers on the Titanic through the brief voyage, sinking, rescue and the congressional hearings that followed. The focus is on the controversy surrounding "Lifeboat One", which carried famous fashion designer Lady Lucile Duff-Gordon, her husband and suspiciously few others considering the size of the vessel. The book's protagonist, Tess, is a working class girl with a talent for dressmaking who becomes Lucile's assistant in a series of fortuitous events(yes, she is ridiculously lucky despite the horrific disaster) that facilitate her beginning of a new life free from servitude.

I respect the author's ambition to bring to life both the complicated character of Lucile and the fascinating questions that arose during the hearings investigating the disaster. She struck a good balance of employing artistic license to strengthen the story while staying true to the history. She included some of the juciest quotes from the hearing transcripts, which actually inspired me to continue to research the hearings, the lifeboats and, eventually pretty much everything Titanic-related on my own. Such inspiration seems to me like a sign of success in a work of historical fiction, and is the main reason I have rated the book favorably.

Unfortunately the writing style and side plots left something to be desired. I did not find the main romantic plotline compelling, and Tess's other experiences seemed to happen so quickly that they were not believable. That said, the book is such a quick read that I think it is worth a look for the historical interest alone. ( )
  Ellen_Elizabeth | May 21, 2014 |
The Dressmaker is about the hearings in New York and Washington D.C. after the sinking of the Titanic. Lady Lucile and Lord Cosmo Duff Gordon (along with many of the other rich survivors of the disaster) are under fire for rumors of bribery and cowardice while they were floating in their lifeboat as the Titanic sank. Kate Alcott uses real transcripts from the hearings to give us a picture of just how stupid, unprepared, and totally out of touch with the world around them the sailors, passengers, and the White Star Line company were at the time. Of course, there were a few brave people willing to tell the public about what really happened in the lifeboats and on the ship as it was sinking (such as the sailor Jim Bonney and, of course, the Unsinkable Molly Brown), but for the most part, the wealthy and important people wanted nothing to do with the disaster after it happened.

None more so than Lucile, whose only concern was her latest spring fashion show. It is infuriating to read about her total lack of concern for others, her stubbornness, and selfishness, but as the above quote demonstrates, she was a product of her time, station, and the disaster. Which, of course, doesn't excuse her abhorrent behavior. But I did find myself feeling sorry for her at times.

I suppose I should mention Tess, who "fortunately" was able to get passage on the Titanic last-minute as Lucile's maid. It is Tess's deepest ambition to design and make clothes, so this opportunity was a boon for her. Once docked in New York, Tess feels a certain loyalty to stick by Lucile's side, even though she has conflicting feelings for the sailor who publicly denounced what happened in Lady Lucile's boat. There is another love interest for Tess, but I had no interest in this "love triangle" situation so I won't go into that.

Most of us know the story of the Titanic, whether through television specials, books, or, of course, the 1997 film. But not everyone knows what happened after the disaster, when the survivors stepped back onto dry land and tried to make sense of the situation, or forget about it and attempted to move on with their lives. Kate Alcott paints an interesting picture of the hearings, and made me anxious to seek out other books on the subject. Lady Lucile, Cosmo, Molly Brown, and all of the other real-life people who were a part of this are fascinating in their own way, and Alcott's background as a reporter really shows through (the female reporter Pinky Wade, who is delightful, seems to be a reflection of Alcott).

It makes me think about what I would have done had I been on the ship. Would I have been brave? Selfish? Cowardly? It's hard to say. I would like to think that I would have been brave and calm, but surrounded by panicked people, crying children, and men chivalrously stepping aside to die while their wives and children were being lowered into lifeboats, I don't think I would know what to do.

The only gripe I had about this book was, as I mentioned above, the romance aspect, and Tess's character in general, which is why I lowered by rating from 4.5 to 3.5 stars. ( )
  kaylaraeintheway | Apr 11, 2014 |
Fascinating account of the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic, combining fictional characters and those drawn from history. I'm left thinking-- in historical fiction, is there such a thing as a spoiler? ( )
  ewillse | Mar 23, 2014 |
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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.
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…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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:28 -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

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