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Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker" by Jennifer Chiaverini ~ Disappointing


New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini illuminates the extraordinary friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a former slave who won her freedom by the skill of her needle, and the friendship of the First Lady by her devotion.

In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.

Published by:  Penguin Group
Pages: 352
Genre:  Historical Fiction
More about the book:
Find it for Purchase:    Barnes & Noble


JENNIFER CHIAVERINI is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as five collections of quilt projects inspired by the novels. Her original quilt designs have been featured in Country Woman, Quiltmaker, and Quilt, and her short stories have appeared in Quiltmaker and Quilters Newsletter. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.
See this trailer to find a download of part of the novel :
For all its hype, I have to tell you I was sorely disappointed in "Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker."  It was absolutely not what I expected.  What I'd expected was a novel.  What I got was a loosely disguised history of the civil war couched in the fabric of a story of Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln.  There is very little about their relationship.  I was disappointed.
I have read many accounts of the civil war, Abraham Lincoln, and Mary Todd Lincoln, in particular.  In fact, Mrs. Lincoln is probably my favorite historical woman.  She is vastly interesting in all aspects.  Her White House years are stunning in account from her renovations to her years of purported "madness."  Ms Chiaverini had so much fodder for a novel, it's a shame she didn't take advantage of it! 
This is a dry and uninspiring novel.  There is no warmth between Mrs. Keckley and Mrs. Lincoln in the book.  There is no real communing of spirit as there is said to have been in real life.  No confidant relationship shown in any depth. 
If, on the other hand, you want a book about history and a well-researched regurgitation and a shallow intercourse between a dressmaker and her client, this is the book for you.  It certainly would give the history of Mrs. Keckly, however, I would suspect the author had little to go on in that respect. As I've said above, I was looking for more.
2 stars     Deborah/TheBookishDame


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