Book Review: The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker
By: Kate Alcott
Published By: Doubleday
Publication Date: February 21, 2012
Page Count: 320
Buy it at Amazon or IndieBound
Source: Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction, Titanic

I have been a fan of the history and controversy surrounding the Titanic since childhood. There was something about this tragedy that compelled me to watch every documentary and read voraciously through the fiction and nonfiction surrounding the sinking. The wreckage was found in 1985 and due to my tender age of three, I don't truly remember the event, but I still feel a twinge of excitement knowing the discovery occurred during my lifetime. The release of Leo and Kate flick back in the 90's was a highlight of my teen movie going and rekindled my fascination with the ship, its passengers, and the controversy surrounding it. As the 100 year anniversary of the sinking approaches, I expected the book market to be flooded with Titanic tales. Some of these reads I expected to be very Jack and Rose like without any real substance, but I assumed that some would make excellent additions to the large collection of Titanic literature that already exists. 

I originally fell in love with The Dressmaker because of its cover and I didn't read the summary until later. When I realized that it was a novel about the Titanic, I moved it to the top of my “To Be Read” list. While I loved the Titanic elements in this one, I also loved Kate Alcott's writing style and the characters. There are so many that I grew to love throughout this one and some that I loved to hate. The Dressmaker will appeal to Titanic aficionados, historical fiction lovers, and those who enjoy clean romances. 

Another aspect that makes this read unique from the other Titanic books out there is the focus. Yes, there is information on the sailing and the sinking, but that all occurs within the beginning chapters of the book. The bulk of this story focuses on the aftermath of the sinking – the hearings to determine what truly happened that night, the stories of bravery and cowardice, and the rampant class warfare. It broke my heart that so many people died due to the careless mistakes and prejudices that ruled that fateful night. Not everyone aboard the ship could have been saved due to the number of lifeboat seats, but many more could have lived if the debarkation had been handled in a more proper manner. Events like this one shed light on the strength and frailty of the human character. I would hope that in the same situation, I would have pushed my fears aside and allowed my compassion and logic to drive my actions. 

This book is told from the third person perspective, but bounces between characters. I found this to be a little unsettling at first, but I quickly grew to enjoy it. I liked being able to see all sides of the story unfold rather than having to rely one character to tell the story. The three characters that the story followed were all vastly different and interesting in their own right. Tess is a young servant girl who obtains a job on the Titanic to escape her life of drudgery in France; she hopes to start a new career in fashion once she arrives in the United States. Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, who is a real passenger of the Titanic, is a British aristocrat who is most well known for her career as a fashion designer. She provides Tess with a job and the promise of helping her break into the design world once they arrive in New York City. However, Lucile often lets her social status dictate her thoughts and actions. She and Tess come into conflict many times over socioeconomic status. Finally, a portion of the story revolves around Pinky Wade, an intrepid female reported for the New York Times, who is bent on bringing the dark secrets of the night the Titanic sank to print. Pinky is a symbol of the suffragist movement in a male dominated world. I loved that this book focused on the female experience rather than telling the story from a male perspective. 

Overall, The Dressmaker is one of the best Titanic reads I have read in some time. It allowed me to experience the aftermath of the tragedy which was a new aspect for me. I have read nonfiction on the hearings, but never have I read any fiction done on the events. Fans of romance will also enjoy this one. Its a clean story – mainly due to the decorum of the time period – but it was still one that touched my heart. Tess was faced with an impossible choice, but in the end I think she made the right decision.

One Last Gripe: I felt like the relationship between Tess and Jack was weak. It seemed a little unrealistic to me.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: The Titanic hearings

First Sentence: 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.

Favorite Character: Tess

Least Favorite Character: Cosmo

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.


  1. I loved this book too. I also rated it 5 stars. It seems to be getting mixed reviews, but I am glad to see that someone loved it as much as I did. Lovely review.

  2. @Kara - Books are truly one of those things where the statement "To Each His Own" truly applies. I also have seen a lot of mixed reviews about this one, but I was enthralled by it. I couldn't put it down. Its nice to see someone else love it as well. Thanks for stopping by Reading Lark.

  3. This cover is gorgeous! I have been hearing good things about this book, excited to see such an awesome rating. hmm!


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