Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, by Jennifer Chiaverini.

"How dreadful," exclaimed Elizabeth. No wonder the president had grown so gaunt and weary, if such terrible imaginings plagued him at night. "But, Mrs. Lincoln, you must not fear that this nightmare will come to pass."

Mrs. Lincoln regarded her flatly. "You said yourself that it would have been an easy matter for an assassin to kill him as he stood at that window last night."

And how Elizabeth regretted saying so. "What I mean is that you should not believe that these are anything more than troubled dreams. They are not glimpses into the future. It would be astonishing if Mr. Lincoln did not have nightmares prompted by the threats made against him - in fact, it is a testament to his strength that he does not have more of them.

Mrs. Lincoln looked as if she wished she could believe her.

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, Jennifer Chiaverini, slavery, Lincoln, dressmaking, needlepoint
I recently saw the movie Lincoln, and although I wasn't a huge fan of the film, it did get me interested in the Lincolns and their lives in general. In Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, the relationship between Mrs. Lincoln and her "modiste," Elizabeth Keckley, is explored, and the book continues on many years past Abraham Lincoln's assassination as well.

Official synopsis:
Born into slavery, Elizabeth Keckley earned freedom for herself and her son by the skill of her needle. She moved to Washington, D.C., where she quickly made a name for herself as the city's most talented dressmaker. It didn't take long for Washington's political and social elite to take notice of her intricate designs, flawless needlework, and the flattering fit of her dresses. After moving into the White House, Mrs. Lincoln called upon Keckley to be her personal modiste - but she soon became much more. A devoted friend, Keckley supported Mrs. Lincoln through political scandal, the loss of a child, her husband's assassination, and her eventual descent into poverty. 
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I didn't know until midway through my reading that Elizabeth Keckley was a real person, and when I found that out - that this novel is fiction but based on fact - it became more interesting to me. Keckley wrote a book about her time in the White House and the Lincoln family, with the intent of shedding positive light onto Mrs. Lincoln, but instead it became known as a "tell-all book written by a [Negro]," and she never received a cent from the publishing of it. Today, however, that book is well-regarded as a personal look into their lives, and has received much praise.

I thought the pacing of the novel was a bit slow, and although overall I enjoyed it, it's not normally the type of book I would read. Chiaverini is known for her Elm Creek Quilts series, but this is her first time writing about the Lincolns; the writing was definitely good, and she must have done a ton of research for the book. Those interested in the Lincolns and their history will most likely enjoy this book, as well as those interested in what it was like during slavery times in the U.S., and the impact it forever had on those who were slaves.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was compensated for writing this review for the BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

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