Yesterday, April 15th, marked the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic. This tragic event is still be talked about all these years later. We fascinated by the sinking of this great ship, and many books, movies and documentaries have been made and will continue to made about this great ship. Whatever the reason, Titanic will remain forever in our hearts as we are haunted by its demise. This week, I am featuring books related to the disaster. Today's story is about a young dressmaker who survives the sinking. Here is my review:
The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titaniccomes 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.Hardcover, 306 pagesPublished February 21st 2012 by Doubleday
Two stars: A book with very little historical basis and an unrealistic heroine.
Tess is tired of being a maid, she longs to be a seamstress. As she hurries through her chores, she glances out the window and sees the Titanic at the dock. Without further hesitation, she grabs her meager possessions, gets her pay and heads down to try and gain passage on the Titanic. By sheer stroke of luck, she encounters the famous designer, Lady Duff Gordan, whose secretary is unable to travel. Tess begs her for the job, she wants desperately to work for this talented designer. Lucille Gordon agrees to take Tess on with the understanding that she will be serving as a maid. Soon Tess is aboard the magnificent Titanic, following her dream, only to have everything come crashing down when the Titanic sinks. Once in America, Tess continues to try and establish herself with Lady Gordon, but controversy is surrounding the Gordons after the events that took place on their lifeboat. Will Tess find a place with Lady Duff Gordon or will she end up as a servant?
What I Liked:
- I was particularly eager to read this book as I was interested in learning more about some of the first class passengers and uncovering details about the hearings and such that followed the sinking. I liked following the controversy after the sinking as people fought for answers and as they looked for someone to blame. There is a great deal of focus on the aftermath of the sinking and the hearings, which is new territory for me.
- I was interested to learn a few new facts about the Titanic sinking such as how the NY Times printed the story of the sinking based on the distress signals, and they were the only ones that dared to print the ship sank without confirmation. Before the Carpathia even docked, the hearings were being planned as people wanted answers. I wasn't aware of the numerous hearings that followed the sinking, so I found this to be of interest. Finally, I didn't know that a lifeboat drill had been planned the morning of the sinking, but it was cancelled for unknown reasons. If the drill had been held, many more lives likely would have been saved. As a Titanic enthusiast, I was excited to glean some new information.
- I appreciated that focus on women fighting for a better life. The story centers around Tess, a young seamstress working as a servant trying to obtain a better position. Tess takes some big chances, and she continues to fight for what she wants. She encounters, Pinky, a reporter for The NY Times. Pinky is a reporter in a man's world and she has to fight tooth and nail for everything. It was eye opening to see how hard it was for women to succeed back then. This book touches very briefly on the women's suffrage movement, and Molly Brown plays and important part in the movement, which I wasn't aware of.
And The Not So Much:
- My biggest complaint with this book is that it doesn't stay true to what actually happened. I know countless books have been written regarding the Titanic, and there are probably more fictional characters on the decks of the ship than actual passengers. I don't have a problem with fictional characters doing things that didn't happen, but when an author takes people who were actually on board the ship and changes facts to suit the story, I have a problem. Cosmo and Lucille Duff Gordon are the main focus of the story once the Titanic sinks. They boarded one of the first lifeboats to leave the Titanic and there were seats for forty but only twelve were on board. Controversy swirled once they were rescued. Some people claimed the Gordons bribed the men manning the boat, offering money to prevent them from turning back to rescue people from the sea, while others said the Gordons gave the sailors money to replace what they had lost. This story was never settled one way or another in history, but Ms. Alcott takes the facts and twists in them and tells a tale that is untrue. First in her version, the Gordans are supposedly caught in a malay of people trying to board the boat, which isn't true as their boat was one of the first to leave and only partially full. Second, after they were rescued there was controversy and hearings to determine what happened. At no point, did the Gordons testify for the American hearings, they only testified in England. In the book, Ms. Alcott has them subpoenaed to testify and then she indicates that Cosmo Gordon was bribing the sailors to prevent them from telling what happened. Unfortunately, there is no proof that this happened. Furthermore, Ms. Alcott places a couple of entertainers on the lifeboat with the Gordons, the Darlings, who jump on board with the husband posing as a woman, and then later he hangs himself because he can't handle the scrutiny that results from Lady Gordon's careless remarks to the press. I researched this part of the book, and there is no truth to it at all. There are plenty of other inconsistencies in the book that depart from what actually happened. I am a reader that likes my historical fiction based in as much actual fact as possible. It is one thing to take a fictional character and place them on the ship and create their own history, it is all together a different thing to take two actual passengers and then slander them and make up things that didn't happen.
- Tess the heroine comes across as unrealistic. At first meeting, she is struggling as a servant girl who manages to get a last minute position with one of the most famous passengers on board Titanic. Tess supposedly boards another lifeboat (Lady Gordon's actual secretary was on their lifeboat). After the sinking, Tess begins to question Lady Gordon and soon gives up everything because she doesn't agree with Lady Gordon. While I appreciated Tess' tenacity and courage, bottom line as a lowly servant girl with nothing to her name and no contacts in America, she was in no position to do what she did. She would have been clawing to hang onto her job.
- The romance is ridiculous. There is a love triangle that forms quickly when Tess encounters a kindly, hard working, honest sailor and a millionaire. I won't go into too many details, but I found the whole romance unappealing, too fast moving and I did not appreciate it. I also thought when the millionaire resurfaced, the explanation was unbelievable.
- The actual sinking of the Titanic and time aboard the ship, is a minimal part of the book. The destruction of Titanic is nothing more than a few pages. A bit disappointing.
The Dressmaker was a book I have been eagerly wanting to read as I was excited to learn more about actual passengers on board. Unfortunately, the author didn't stick to the historical facts, and instead created an alternate storyline that completely slandered the Gordons. I am not a fan of needless vilification. I found this book overall to be unappealing, and I can't recommend it unless you want a story that is almost completely fictional.
"A lady who is willing to stand up for herself has a dignity that will take her a long way."
I borrowed a copy of this book from the library. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.