Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

A Novel

Book - 2013
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Nov 19, 2019

Mama Lou recommendation

Sep 25, 2019

This book is based on solid research of a tumultuous time in US history. The growing confidence and friendship that the Lincolns, especially Mary Todd, extend towards their seamstress, freed black woman Elizabeth Keckley, mirrors the massive social changes of the 1860’s.
Still this book seems rather keen on moralizing. It is short on dramatic revelations at least until the latter years of Elizabeth’s life when she publishes her memoirs. After all we know the course of the Civil War and we know President Lincoln was shot while at the theatre. The narrative is often laboured with an overworked theme of how poorly Mrs Lincoln is treated, especially after her husband’s assassination. In parallel Elizabeth always comes to her rescue, often to her own detriment.
Elizabeth indeed idolizes both Lincolns despite Mary’s many faults and the fact the President, for all his greatness, has some deficiencies as well. Elizabeth appears to have no faults of her own, after the war she even re-establishes contact with the family of her former owners, all Confederates of course. A book with three main characters cast as near saints is not exactly the most riveting reading.
Overall though it is an entertaining, if somewhat repetitive and predictable, read. It did uncover facts I was unaware of that made me feel sorry for Mrs Lincoln. She was obviously not treated fairly in many quarters, either as the First Lady or Lincoln’s widow. The loss of her close family members is described in particularly poignant style.
Elizabeth’s wry observations of life for a free black businesswomen and confidante to the powerful in the 1860’s are very insightful. In the background, the political climate, disagreements and spectrum of opinions regarding slavery is dealt with convincingly.
I believe this book, published in 2013, may have been a turning point in Chiaverni’s writing as she became a serious raconteur of major historical events. Her more recent book, Resistance Women, published in 2019, is a much more polished story of events in Germany from 1929 to the end of the WWII.

Aug 29, 2019

Loved this book. A great read.

Feb 11, 2018

I found this book was quite a good read. Mind you I lost some patience with Mrs Lincoln!

Nov 20, 2017

Chiaverini has written a historical novel based on the relationship between Elizabeth Keckley, a freed slave who was a modiste, and Mary Todd Lincoln. The story spans the years 1860 to 1901 and focuses on life in the White House during the Civil War and the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination. Events are seen through Elizabeth's eyes and only highlight that nothing was simple about American politics in the 19th century and slaves' relationships to their former masters. A bit slow in places, the story gives the reader a fascinating glimpse into the tragic life of Mary Todd Lincoln. This book is the November 2017 selection of the Willa Cather Book Club.

Apr 04, 2017

For lovers of historic fiction, be forewarned, MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER is heavy on the history and much lighter on the fiction. Its subject matter (the friendship between Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, seamstress and former slave, and her patron, Mary Todd Lincoln) is intriguing and has such potential, unfortunately the story suffers in the execution. The telling by author Jennifer Chiaverini is frequently dry and flat with so much listing of Civil War events and leaders I felt I was reading a textbook. It seemed Ms. Chiaverini attempted to emulate the time period’s manner of speaking in her writing and word choice but often it came off as awkward. What I missed was a deep connection to the characters. I was already familiar with many of the details of the Lincoln White House years, but it was interesting to learn what happened to these two women following the President’s assassination, however this isn’t conveyed until the final third of the book and the saga of selling Mrs. Lincoln’s wardrobe goes on way too long. While not awful, MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER is certainly underwhelming, and I can’t help but think it would’ve made for a more powerful and engaging book in the hands of a different author.

Jan 29, 2017

A unique perspective of a tumultuous time in history. I happened to read it over the weekend of Trump's inauguration and first week of his presidency, which added a new level of depth to my ponderings about the White House during the Civil War era. That said, the narrative was drawn out dragged a little slowly at times. I appreciate all that I learned from this book, but doubt I'll be recommending it.

Nov 10, 2016

This book was picked for my local book club so I had great hopes for it.
Unfortunately, it is poorly written and I could not develop any empathy for the characters. Got about half way through and decided it wasn't worth finishing.

Aug 02, 2016

Great book to get a perspective of the Civil War from an inside angle. Good read, but I found the ending a tad rushed and unsatisfying.

Jun 02, 2016

This was a good read. Parts were too "military" for me. But to tell the story perhaps they had to be in there.

Jan 02, 2016

Interesting historical biographical fiction. Dragged. Didn't complete reading it. Some of the people in my book club liked it though.

Oct 31, 2015

I would give this only a 3 star. Although the subject matter was wonderful, I ordered her actual memoirs and it was almost like this author plagiarized the original work of Elizabeth Keckley. Sorry, I was a bit disappointed in that. was tempted to read Mrs. Lincoln's Rival but found I could learn all I needed to know by Wikipedia.

dralac00 Aug 12, 2014

this book was wonderful~~~l highly recommend it!

Jun 27, 2014

I have not read any of the author's previous books; however, i agree with other readers who found this somewhere between fiction & fact. Though it piqued my interest to research this subject.

athompson10 Jan 22, 2014

The history was interesting but the narration of the novel was very dry. It felt like the author just patched together historical facts with excerpts from Elizabeth Keckley's memoir without ever delving into her as a person. Most historical novels take some liberties to imagine what the characters were thinking and what their motivations were for their actions. This one doesn't and suffers for it.

debwalker Jan 03, 2014

Costco pick of the month for January 2014.

Oct 04, 2013

I found this book fascinating although the writing was somewhat patchy.Historical fiction entirely about real people is a difficult genre. Jennifer Chiavarini's approach to the Civil War in America from the Union perspective, involving the attitudes to slavery,colour and abolition through a study of Elizabeth Keckley and her relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln gave a different view of Abraham Lincoln.The Gettysburg Address was cut down to size in the Lincoln household. Their son was ill and Mrs Lincoln considered that was far more important than opening a cemetery.Needless to say, Abraham Lincoln did his Presidential duty and gave the most frequently quoted speech of his career. The reference in the credits to the Keckley Quilt having belonged to Ruth Finley of 'Old Patchwork Quilts' fame was tantalising.A quick check of her book availed me no mention of the quilt let alone a picture.However, Google came to my assistance and I was able, through Youtube, to see the actual quilt as it is today, at Kent State University Museum.It is a remarkable piece of designing as one would expect. The colours are beautiful and the embroidered elements rich..Elizabeth Keckley was truly a notable woman of her time.For additional background, google Elizabeth Keckley Quilt.

Aug 31, 2013

Not as good as her other works. Having been a loyal fan for years, sadly, I think her best work is behind her. :(

Aug 01, 2013

Jennifer Chiaverini's book is about Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker. She gained her fame as Mrs. Lincoln's modiste - but she was far more than that; she was Mrs. Lincoln's dear friend and confidante, seeing her through several tough times.

Elizabeth, as the narrator spoke to me vividly and perhaps a telling comment is when she describes her father telling her to "learn your book." Yes, this slave woman who bought freedom for herself acquitted herself so well that she rose to heights no colored woman of her generation did.

Chiaverini tells this story with pathos, poetic license and yet a dedication to historical facts and rightly states that "In Washington's colored community, rank was determined according to one's wealth, distance from slavery, and lightness of skin tone."

Despite her immense success as a modiste(dressmaker) and her acceptance by the president's family Elizabeth was intensely aware of the way people of her race were treated. She uses the example of Tad Lincoln's struggles with reading to express her opinion that "If a white child appeared dull, he and he alone was thought to suffer from a lack of intelligence...,but if a colored boy appeared dull, the entire race was deemed unintelligent."

The author uses Elizabeth's ties with her ex-owners' families to illustrate her belief "that love is too strong to be blown away like gossamer threads. That sums up the book - Elizabeth's infinite capacity to love.

Jul 07, 2013

Mrs. LIncoln's Dressmaker makes history come alive. Very well written, and quite moving.

Louise Wilson

sablegirl Feb 20, 2013

I was a bit disappointed with this book. I thought the author, known for her quilt books, would have made this subject matter a bit less dry. I recently read a very short story about this subject matter and was satisfied with that. I thought this book would be a bit more interesting than it was. I read about a quarter of the book and gave up for a more interesting book. If you lean towards historical books, this is the book for you.

LaughingOne Feb 14, 2013

Slow-going at times, this novel is an insider's look at what could have been going on during the time leading up to and through the Civil War, as well as many years after. Elizabeth Keckley is portrayed as a sensitive, insightful, honourable woman, who mostly was true to sound values. Now I want to do some research on her and read non-fiction about her.
This book was not as alive for me as Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilt novels, but it is an interesting and enjoyable read.

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