Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: A Novel
  • Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: A Novel
  • Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: A Novel

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: A Novel

3.7 170
by Jennifer Chiaverini
     
 

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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 ChiaveriniSee more details below

Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Elizabeth “Lizzy” Keckley, a freed slave in Washington, D.C., right before the start of the Civil War, gains fame as a dressmaker for Northerners and Southerners alike, but when Lincoln is elected and the Southerners secede, she chooses to remain in Washington. She becomes the modiste for Mary Todd Lincoln and is privy to the innermost workings of the Lincoln White House, Mary Todd’s reckless spending, President Lincoln’s death, and his widow’s subsequent penury. When Lizzy writes a memoir about her experiences, she’s denigrated by the public (which derides it as “Kitchen and Bed-Chamber Literature”) for betraying the Lincoln confidences even though she casts Mary Todd in a favorable light. Chiaverini’s characterization of the relationship between Mary Todd and Lizzy, a real historical figure, is nuanced, revealing a friendship that is at times unstable and fraught with class distinctions but also warm and protective. Though not without its problems (characters are insulated from the worst of the war; Lizzy is curiously passive; the pacing can be slow), Chiaverini deviates from her usual focus on quilting (found in the Elm Creek Quilts series) to create a welcome historical. Agent: Maria Massie, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Elizabeth Keckley, born a slave who later purchased her freedom, lived a life that was charmed in many ways. Her talents as a seamstress gained her entrée into the dressing rooms of the wives of the political elite in Washington. By far her most famous and long-lasting association was with Mary Todd Lincoln, wife then widow of the 16th President. Chiaverini steps away from her popular “Elms Creek Quilt” series to explore this relationship in this absorbing stand-alone historical novel.

Verdict Taking readers through times of war and peace as seen through the eyes of an extraordinary woman, the author brings Civil War Washington to vivid life through her meticulously researched authentic detail. Chiaverini’s characters are compelling and accurate; the reader truly feels drawn into the intimate scenes at the White House. Historical fiction fans will enjoy this one, while Chiaverini’s devoted readers may be adventurous enough to try something new. [See Prepub Alert, 8/16/12.]—Pam O’Sullivan, SUNY Coll. at Brockport Lib.(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
From the intimate domestic circles of the political elite, a dressmaker witnesses the upheavals of 19th-century America. Chiaverini (The Giving Quilt, 2012, etc.) sets aside her Elm Creek Quilts series for this historical novel about Elizabeth Keckley. Drawing upon the rich milieu of Civil War America, as well as Keckley's own memoir (published in 1868 as Behind the Scenes), Chiaverini weaves the story of a woman who lived as both slave and freedwoman. Elizabeth learns her trade by making clothes for her fellow slaves, and once freed, she plies her needle so skillfully that the wives of Republicans and Democrats clamor for her designs. Varina, the second wife of Jefferson Davis, even seeks to take Elizabeth with her to Montgomery when the South secedes and her husband becomes president of the Confederacy. Despite her desire to journey with Varina, Elizabeth decides to stay in Washington, since traveling further South will erase most of her freedoms. Her decision leads to her new position as Mary Todd Lincoln's modiste. Elizabeth not only designs and sews Mary's clothes, but she also arranges her hair, helps her dress, cares for her children at times and becomes her confidante. As others nearly shun Mary for her extravagances during wartime, not to mention her mercurial personality, she relies more and more heavily upon Elizabeth. Their relationship affords an interesting perspective for viewing the cultural and social turmoil of the times, for no matter how much Elizabeth is respected for her skills and no matter how intimately Mary trusts her with her confidences, Elizabeth remains a former slave, and she must be reminded of her place. While the backdrop is strikingly vivid, Chiaverini's domestic tale dawdles too often in the details of dress fittings and quilt piecings, leaving Elizabeth's emotional terrain glimpsed but not traveled.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101609644
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/15/2013
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
10,342
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
“Required Reading . . . The story of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and Lizzie Keckley, a former slave who became Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress and confidante. After the president’s assassination, Keckley created the Mary Todd Lincoln quilt and also a scandalous memoir. A new spin on the story.”  —New York Post
 
“Jennifer Chiaverini imagines the first lady’s most private affairs through the eyes of an unlikely confidante.” –Harper’s Bazaar
 
“Chiaverini has drawn a loving portrait of a complex and gifted woman . . . Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker helps to illuminate the path on which her long and remarkable life led her.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 
“All the characters are brilliantly written, and readers will enjoy getting to know them. [Chiaverini] brings to life long-forgotten snapshots of America’s past with style, grace and respect.” –RT Book Reviews
 
“Taking readers through times of war and peace as seen through the eyes of an extraordinary woman, the author brings Civil War Washington to vivid life through her meticulously researched authentic detail. Chiaverini's characters are compelling and accurate; the reader truly feels drawn into the intimate scenes at the White House.”           –Library Journal
 
“Nuanced... a welcome historical.” –Publishers Weekly 
 
“A compelling fictional account of Keckley’s life.”  -Bookpage

Praise for Jennifer Chiaverini and the Elm Creek Quilts series

“Chiaverini’s themes of love, loss, and healing will resonate with many, and her characters’ stories are inspiring.” —Publishers Weekly

“Chiaverini has an impressive ability to bring a time and place alive.” —Romantic Times Book Reviews

“Emotionally compelling.” —Chicago Tribune on Sonoma Rose

“Jennifer Chiaverini has made quite a name for herself with her bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series. From the Civil War to the Roaring Twenties to contemporary settings, these novels have offered suspense, romance, and, at times, in-depth looks into the social, political, and cultural differences that helped shape a nation.” —BookPage

“Chiaverini excels at weaving stories and at character development. We can relate to the residents of Elm Creek Valley because they remind us of folks we know—a cousin, an aunt, or a grandmother.” —Standard-Examiner (Utah)

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