The Dressmaker: Book summary and reviews of The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker

A Novel

by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2012
    320 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"While the fictionalizing of real characters, notably Lucy, doesn't wholly convince, there's an appealing, soulful freshness to this shrewdly commercial offering." - Kirkus Reviews

"Taking the tale of the Titanic out of the frigid sea and docking it in the courtroom and early 20th-century New York gives the familiar story a fresh feel." - Library Journal

"Pinky and a handful of other side characters beleaguer rather than benefit the novel, although Alcott redeems her story with Tess, managing a sweetness that stops short of cloying in her heroine's ever-positive perseverance." - Publishers Weekly

"We all know how the Titanic went down, we all saw the movie. But what happened after? This brilliant book shows the aftermath of the tragedy, seen through the eyes of a brave, young girl who was on board, on her way to America, to start a new life as a dressmaker. From the minute Tess sets foot on the doomed ship, this is the kind of novel you simply cannot put down and cannot forget." - Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah's Key and A Secret Kept

"This is a fascinating premise for a novel as well as a powerful, page-turning read. It's also a very valuable contribution to our understanding of the events surrounding the sinking of The Titanic, and its aftermath." - Isabel Wolff, author of A Vintage Affair

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Reader Reviews

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Mary D. (Claremont, CA)

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
There has always been a fascination and mystique surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. So many different elements: the "arrogance" of the shipping company in calling the ship Unsinkable, the class distinctions, the chivalry, especially in the first and second class gentlemen, yet the horror of knowing that steerage passengers were essentially "locked in." So many stories...one would wonder what more could be covered. In The Dressmaker, we are introduced to two strong women, Tess Collins who hires on as a maid to Lady Duff Gordon, both survivors of the sinking. Needless to say, one is quite admirable and the other turns out to be a "victim" of her class and acts accordingly during traumatic circumstances. What was especially interesting to me is the coverage of the investigations into the sinking of the Titanic that took place in New York, the accounts of the crew members, how true heroes were villified by those trying to save their own skins, and how the survivors suffered from guilt, and how the public reacted to the survivors once the initial shock had worn off. This is a view of this tragedy that isn't covered...what happened after the survivors reached the shore.
An interesting side note: currently at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas is the Titanic Exhibition, complete with a section of the ship (you can really get an idea of how huge the ship was) and many, many artifacts collected from the debris field. When you enter the exhibit, you are given a boarding pass for a person who sailed on the ship; at the end of the exhibit is a listing of all passengers and crew and you find your person and see if they survived or not. My husband received the card of a 3-year old boy who was traveling with his his brother and his father, who had kidnapped them from his estranged wife. They were traveling under the name of Hoffman, but their real name was Navratil; the boys survived, the father did not. In The Dressmaker, Tess is handed two small boys, by their father who begs her to save them. She takes them with her on the lifeboat...the Navratil boys!

Therese X. (CALERA, AL)

100 Year Old Disaster Viewed with Fresh Eyes
Young, talented Tess Collins learned the skill of the needle from her mother, but her father sends her out to work as a mere maid in a cold, uncaring English household. Defiantly determined to better her life as a professional dressmaker, she runs away after hearing that jobs are available on board a ship in port sailing soon for America. As she boards the "Titanic", her path crosses that of world-famous fashion designer, Lady Lucile Duff Cooper, who notices Tess and hires her as her maid, "on trial". This is the start of Tess's dream-come-true. Soon disaster strikes, and Tess barely makes it into the last lifeboat. Jim, a sailor,and one of Tess's other new on-board friends, escapes in the nearly empty lifeboat carrying the Duff Coopers who allegedly paid the rowers not to take on survivors from the water. Tess is unaware of this and sees only her life's dream of working for Lucile's huge fashion factory as an assistant. However, when the U. S. Senate forms an investigation into the reasons for the "Titanic" disaster, Lady Lucile comes under scrutiny and Tess must choose her loyalties carefully and according to her own mind and heart. Tess Collins is a marvelous heroine in a page-turning novel filled with real and vividly imagined characters and engrossing story lines. Reading the book, is more like watching a great historical film that's seen from a unique perspective. The author paints a great picture with words and readers can only hope that the feisty Tess will reappear in a sequel to The Dressmaker.

Lesley F. (San Diego, CA)

Made to Measure
Seamless historical fiction gathered around an unforgettable love story tucked into the hem of a real tragedy. What a compelling pleasure to read.

Christine S. (Highland, UT)

Great Read!
The Dressmaker is a book that I could not put down. Took notes on inspiring quotes that I wanted to remember! Outstanding character development. Soon, it will be 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic and the suffrage movement. We have come a long way. Timely and an Excellent read!

Kat F. (Palatine, IL)

I was surprised
I usually don't read historical fiction, so I think I may have checked the wrong book selection when trying to get a First Impression book. However, when I received the book, I felt a responsibility to read it and review. I am so glad I did.

I was pleasantly surprised by just how good this book actually is. It presented a solid and interesting view of the sinking of the Titanic, the terrible choices that passengers and crew alike must have had to make, and the personal as well as political spins put into play at the hearings. Although the author could have taken the path of "high drama" just for drama's sake, doing so would not have produced a book better than this one. Also interesting was how the author tied into the story other events going on at the time, that changed our country particularly as they related to women.

I couldn't put it down. I was left wondering what happened to the characters and wanting to know more about their subsequent lives -- always a sign of a really good book.

Patricia H. (Norman, OK)

Tragedy and Triumph
This would be a good read for teens as well as for adult women. Although not a romance story it is definitely a romantic story. The backdrop is tragic as the main characters are forced to examine their decisions, determine what is truth and live with the consequences.

...24 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Kate Alcott Author Biography

Patricia O'Brien's award-winning career has spanned the worlds of books - fiction and non-fiction - journalism, politics and education. 

Her latest novel, The Dressmaker, written under the pseudonym of Kate Alcott, is a New York Times best seller.  Centered on the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic, it was published by Doubleday in 2012.  Another novel, The Daring Ladies of Lowell, is slated for publication in 2014.

She is the co-author, along with Ellen Goodman, of  the New York Times non-fiction bestseller entitled, I Know Just What You Mean – The Power of Friendship In  Women's Lives.

She is also the author of two other historical novels, Harriet and Isabella, a novel about Harriet Beecher Stowe, which was published by Simon and ...

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