Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

A Novel

Book - 2013
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Presents a fictionalized account of the friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave.
Publisher: New York : Dutton, 2013
ISBN: 9780525953616
Characteristics: 356 p. ; 24 cm


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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.

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