Saturday, February 11, 2012


Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.

Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.

Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.

On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.


The Dressmaker is the story of a young woman who dreams of fleeing the harshness of her life in England where she works as a maid. Alone in the world, her only talent lies in her skill to design and sew dresses. Yet the only work available to her are ones that require housework or the most basic of sewing skills.

So Tess Collins sets her sights on the New World, to America. A chance encounter with Lady Lucile Duff Gordon results in her being hired as an assistant to the world renowned fashion designer. Together they embark on the Titanic. Miraculously the two women survive and are brought to New York. In the aftermath of the sinking, with all the confusion and the pandemonium, Tess struggles to make her way in this new world while trying to get along with her formidable boss. She soon falls in love with two men, one of high social class and the other poor. These love interests, along with a feisty reporter named Pinky, makes for an entertaining sub-plot. 

Author Kate Alcott definitely offers an interesting story. It is important for readers to know, however, that this  novel focuses mostly on the fictional story and characters than on what actually happened on the Titanic. More attention is placed on the aftermath of the sinking than what happened in the final hours before the ship sunk. And this is what I enjoyed most about this tale. 

Through her characters, the author briefly delves into the facts of what happened on the Titanic, especially what happened on Lifeboat One and the quandry between those in the water and those who were fortunate enough to find space in a lifeboat, and more heavily on what happened to the survivors afterwards when they arrived in New York and faced a media frenzy.

The story of the Titanic has been told through film and book, so it is a challenge for any author to tackle such a challenging, complicated historical event. Some of the characters in this story were fictional, while others were drawn from the actual persons aboard the tragic ship. Although I enjoyed reading and learning about the aftermath of the Titanic's sinking and the subsequent subplots that arose with the survivors, I was left yearning for a little more about the circumstances that arose on the ship itself. Some of that was disclosed at the end of the novel. Nevertheless, the story was enjoyable, informative, and accurately written based upon meticulous research. It was tasteful and didn't play upon the tragedy, being so respectfully written. For those fascinated with the Titanic, this makes for pleasant reading. 

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