A poor, but talented (and spunky!), young seamstress; a wealthy (and imperious!) fashion designer; the doomed Titanic and overcrowded lifeboats–what’s not to like? Kate Alcott’s The Dressmaker is a novel with the same flavor as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society. Base it on historical fact, populate it with sympathetic characters, throw in a love story, and you’ve got a story sure to please. Add to the mix a host of English characters to please the Anglophiles and it can’t get much better.
Tess is that seamstress who finagles her way onto the Titanic as a maid for the wealthy designer Lady Lucille Duff Gordon. And while Tess isn’t much of a maid, she does win Lady Duff’s approval as a seamstress. Tess also meets the approval of two men on board the ship: the rich businessman Jack Bremerton and the poor sailor Jim Bonney. For the rest of the novel, they’ll vie for Tess’s attention, but only one will win her love.
Alcott captures the slow motion chaos of the tragedy, the alternate panic and disbelief as passengers either stood stunned or shoved towards the lifeboats. Lady Duff becomes the villain when it’s discovered that her lifeboat, designed to hold forty to fifty passengers, launched with only twelve. That scandal, followed by feisty young girl-reporter Pinky Wade, is at the center of the novel. Senator William Smith actually meets the rescue ship Carpathian to assess the situation and launches hearings immediately upon the ship’s docking so that none of the important players disperse across the country.
As she watches her employer’s life unravel, Tess finds herself in charge of the workroom at Lucille, Ltd., preparing for the spring fashion show and trying to tie up all the loose ends, from wardrobe malfunctions to dress re-designs and sulky models. Will Tess stand by her benefactor despite her doubts about Lady Duff’s character? Will Tess fall for the temptations of wealth her older suitor promises? Or will her first love be her last love?
My hunch is that even if you can already guess the answers to all those questions, you still won’t be disappointed in The Dressmaker. And although I’m not a betting person, I’d bet this Cinderella story is picture-perfect for a movie.