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Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker : a novel
2013
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Fiction/Biography Profile
Characters
Mary Todd Lincoln (Female), First Lady, Married, Mother, Married to president Abraham Lincoln; chose Elizabeth to be her personal dressmaker
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Keckley (Female), Seamstress, African American, Mother, Freed slave, Born into slavery; forced to sumnbit to her white master; gave birth to his illegitimate son; bought her own freedom; gained her reputation by making dresses for the elite in Washington, D.C.
Genre
Fiction
Historical
Topics
Female friendship
Lincoln, Abraham
Lincoln, Mary Todd
Dressmakers
First ladies
Loss
Assassinations
African American women
Freed slaves
Setting
Washington, D.C. - Mid-Atlantic States (U.S.)
Time Period
1860s -- 19th century
Large Cover Image
Trade Reviews

  Library Journal Review

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 entree 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 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Publishers Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
<p>In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. She earned her freedom by the skill of her needle and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with her devotion. In her sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln's days.<br> <br> Elizabeth Keckley made her professional reputation in Washington, DC, making expertly fashioned dresses for the city's elite, among them Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Mrs. Robert E. Lee. In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose her from among numerous applications to be her personal 'modiste,' responsible for creating the First Lady's beautiful gowns and dressing her for important occasions. In this role, Elizabeth Keckley was quickly drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, a clear-eyed but compassionate witness to events within the private quarters of the White House.<br> <br> Ever loyal to the Union, Elizabeth Keckley hid her fears when her only son, George, enlisted with the first Missouri Volunteers, and his courage in battle inspired her bold new endeavors. When then of thousands of former slaves sought refuge in Washington, she cared for them in their squalid camps, taught them sewing and other necessary skills, founded the Contraband Relief Association-to which Mary Todd Lincoln was a generous contributor-and worked tirelessly to raise money so that the struggling freedmen could embrace their newfound liberty. All the while, Elizabeth Keckley supported the First Lady through years of war, political strife, and devastating personal losses, even as she endured heartbreaking tragedies of her own.<br> <br> Even more daring, Keckley not only made history but also wrote it, in her own words. The publication of her memoir, Behind the Scenes- Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House , placed her at the center of a scandal she ever intended. The sensational fallout distanced the longtime confidantes, and for the rest of her days Elizabeth Keckley sought redemption through living an exemplary life.<br> <br> Impeccably researched and thoroughly engrossing, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker renders this singular story of intertwining lives in rich, moving style.</p>
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