Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker...Review
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.
I was so excited to see that Jennifer Chiaverini has finally branched out from her Elm Creek series. I've enjoyed most of that series, but I don't think every single character in a series needs her own story. When I learned about this book, I was fascinated by the Lincoln subject matter and anxious to read Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker.
The story of the relationship between Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln is impeccably researched and very historical. Unfortunately, it fell short for me. It was a book that took me an inordinately long time to get through and there was much historical telling about the time period. Honestly, I finally just skimmed over the historical narrative and moved to the portions that were about Elizabeth and Mrs. Lincoln.
I loved the portrayal of President Lincoln. He seemed like such a good, kind man in these pages. Mrs. Lincoln, unfortunately, was a truly unlikeable character. I didn't like her and I had no compassion for her and I wish I had because I think her time in the White House was difficult. Elizabeth was good, almost too good and I wanted to be able to see more of her life before she became a free woman.
Well researched, fans of historical fiction and Jennifer Chiaverini in particular will likely enjoy it more than I did.
Thanks to Dutton, Penguin Group for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Jennifer Chiaverini here. You can purchase your own copy here.
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