First off, The Dressmaker isn’t much of a romance novel. I feel like Amazon lied a little bit to me about this book. But I’m glad it did because, once I accepted that the leading men weren’t that big a presence, I really enjoyed the book.
Tess is a seamstress in England who is being treated like a lowly servant. One day she just snaps and walks out. There’s a big ship leaving for America and she’s determined to talk her way onto it. This part is surprisingly easy and she finds herself aboard the Titanic. And we all know what happens next.
She’s taken under the wing of Lady Duff Gordon was a real fashion designer who survived the Titanic’s sinking. It’s practically a dream come true to work under someone so distinguished; Tess gets her hopes up early on that she will follow in her new mentor’s footsteps. But her boss isn’t the best of people. She’s not portrayed as evil (though you can find plenty of resources online that do just that), but she’s not the kindest or most stable of women. Every day working for Lady Duff Gordon is a trial, but Tess stays strong. She knows what she wants for her life and knows this is a way to get it, so she puts up with more than just about anyone would.
Most of the story is post-sinking, though Alcott gives that horrific event its proper spotlight. What she focuses on afterward is the American inquiry of the tragedy. Much of this is based on the real inquiry. There are a lot of characters that were real people and a lot of the testimony is real testimony that was given. I highly recommend not looking any of this up until after you read. Since it does stay true to real life, and Lady Duff Gordon was a public target, it could be a spoiler to read anything on Wikipedia before reading this book.
So we follow Tess as she learns to navigate in a new country and try to get her designer feet wet in the industry. All the while she’s falling for a sailor that is saying her boss did awful things in the lifeboat. And her boss is flip-flopping between supporting her and berating her. If that isn’t enough stress to cope with, she meets Pinky Wade, a reporter for the New York Times. Pinky at one moment seems a strong friend. At other times she’s just out to get a headline about Lady Duff Gordon. Tess should be in over her head, yet she pulls herself together and keeps going.
This was classified as a romance, but Tess really doesn’t seem that interested in romance. There are two men that play a role, but to call either of them a leading man seems an exaggeration. They help her along the way, but for the most part I felt Tess was taking care of herself. She’s what strong female roles are all about. She takes an extremely hard route to finding herself and making a life in America, but she’s inspiring to say the least.
Alcott’s book was a great read. The historical aspect was treated very well and there isn’t much of substantial value changed to fit the story. Instead Tess’s tale merges with the real events. With such a relatable leading lady, it was nearly impossible to put this book down. While I was expecting it to be more about the strong men in her life, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Tess come into her own. It’s obvious why this book is a bestseller. I give the Dressmaker 5 Whatzits for Tess bringing out the cheerleader in me.