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Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: A Novel Paperback – September 24, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Chiaverini’s latest is based on the true story of Elizabeth Keckley, who bought freedom from slavery for herself and her son and went on to become a well-known modiste in Washington. Keckley had a front-row seat to history: she dressed Washington’s A-list, including Jefferson Davis’ wife before they left D.C., and, most intimately, Mary Todd Lincoln. Mrs. Lincoln is mercurial, scheming, extravagant, and troubled, but Elizabeth stands by her as she is lambasted in the press. Long stretches of battle history and descriptions of Lincoln’s political rivals lag, while more time spent on Elizabeth’s work with newly freed slaves in D.C. would have been welcome. Still, Elizabeth Keckley is an admirable heroine—successful, self-made, and utterly sympathetic. Readers of the Elm Creek Quilt series who have enjoyed Chiaverini’s narrative jaunts into Civil War and Underground Railroad history will be interested in Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker—and there is even a little bit of quilting in the story. This is also a good choice for readers of Christian historical fiction, as both Elizabeth’s and Mr. Lincoln’s faiths are important elements in shaping their characters. --Susan Maguire --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Praise for Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker“Required Reading . . . The story of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and Lizzie Keckley, a former slave who became Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress and confidante. After the president’s assassination, Keckley created the Mary Todd Lincoln quilt and also a scandalous memoir. A new spin on the story.”  --New York Post
“Jennifer Chiaverini imagines the first lady’s most private affairs through the eyes of an unlikely confidante.” –Harper’s Bazaar
“Chiaverini has drawn a loving portrait of a complex and gifted woman . . . Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker helps to illuminate the path on which her long and remarkable life led her.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“All the characters are brilliantly written, and readers will enjoy getting to know them. [Chiaverini] brings to life long-forgotten snapshots of America’s past with style, grace and respect.” –RT Book Reviews
“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.”           –Library Journal
“Nuanced... a welcome historical.” –Publishers Weekly 
“A compelling fictional account of Keckley’s life.”  -Bookpage

Praise for Jennifer Chiaverini and the Elm Creek Quilts series
“Chiaverini’s themes of love, loss, and healing will resonate with many, and her characters’ stories are inspiring.” —Publishers Weekly

“Chiaverini has an impressive ability to bring a time and place alive.” —Romantic Times Book Reviews

“Emotionally compelling.” —Chicago Tribune on Sonoma Rose

“Jennifer Chiaverini has made quite a name for herself with her bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series. From the Civil War to the Roaring Twenties to contemporary settings, these novels have offered suspense, romance, and, at times, in-depth looks into the social, political, and cultural differences that helped shape a nation.” —BookPage

“Chiaverini excels at weaving stories and at character development. We can relate to the residents of Elm Creek Valley because they remind us of folks we know—a cousin, an aunt, or a grandmother.” —Standard-Examiner (Utah)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (September 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142180351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142180358
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,261 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of MRS. LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER, MRS. LINCOLN'S RIVAL, THE SPYMISTRESS, MRS. GRANT AND MADAME JULE, and other acclaimed historical novels. She also wrote the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, "In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

253 of 265 people found the following review helpful By scquilter on February 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker is a simple and enjoyable telling of the Lincoln presidency. I was interested enough to obtain Elizabeth Keckley's own memoir, Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. (free for Kindle on Amazon). As I read it, my opinion of Jennifer Chiaverini's book plummeted. Much of her book is copied right out of Keckley's memoir, word for word, without giving Keckley the credit that she deserves. Chaiverini did add in a little additional material about the latter years of Keckley's life. If you are interested in this subject, choose Elizabeth Keckley's book.
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162 of 172 people found the following review helpful By Viviane Crystal VINE VOICE on January 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Keckley is no stranger to suffering. Born into slavery, forced to submit to her white master and giving birth to her son George, bearing years of the indignities of slavery and finally painstakingly saving enough to buy her own freedom, she has gradually developed into a skillful dressmaker. Initially, she develops a reputation by sewing the dresses of Mrs. Davis, whose husband will later leave Washington, D.C. to become the Confederate President during the Civil War. Her obvious skill earns her enough clientele of the well-to-do that she immediately comes to the attention of Mrs. Lincoln, an enigmatic personality who nonetheless comes to cherish Elizabeth as a dear friend!

This then is the story of Abraham Lincoln's presidential years observed by Ms. Keckley who spends most of her time at first sewing and dressing the extravagant Mrs. Lincoln and then soothing and encouraging her during her nervous and anxious moments. Elizabeth's goodness and kindness in this story is credible but also highlights a bit of naivety as Elizabeth fails to see that Mrs. Lincoln's caustic tongue has repeatedly offended so many political families so that attention of her peers and the press are constantly focused on reporting innuendos and rumors of scandal. Elizabeth, however, fails to understand how others can be so cruel to this woman who lost a son years ago, loses another child during the Presidential years, and would be a lonely soul with Elizabeth's constant encouragement and comfort. The President, meanwhile, is portrayed as terribly burdened by the disappointing progress for the Union in the interminable defeats of the War, which are carefully and minutely described in detail herein and well worth the read.
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78 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Heidi on January 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Life hasn't always been easy for Elizabeth Keckley. She is a former slave who managed to buy her freedom and her son's as well. She is middle aged, estranged from her husband and building a dressmaking business in Washington D.C. Despite her difficulties, she endeavors to work hard and make the most of her opportunities. Her skills with the needle have landed her some prestigious clients, including Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis. Her reputation grows and eventually she lands an interview with none other than the First Lady. Mary Lincoln hires her even though she is the only colored woman applying. This is the beginning of a long term relationship between these two extraordinary women. When Elizabeth takes on the job to be Mrs. Lincoln's personal dressmaker, she has no idea how it will change her life. She not only diligently sews the finest gowns for Mrs. Lincoln, but she also becomes a personal friend and confidant to the family. Elizabeth spends endless hours at the White House interacting with the Lincoln's. She nurses the children, dresses Mary and even combs Mr. Lincoln's hair before important engagements. She has come a long way from her humble beginnings as a slave. This is the account of Elizabeth's relationship with Mrs. Lincoln and the story of her life. She was an amazing woman who led an impressive life.

What I Liked:
*I am always drawn to books set in the Civil War Era, but I admit, I tend to read more about the Confederacy and the subsequent death of the Old South. I am a bit unfamiliar with Mrs. Lincoln, and the few things I do know about her aren't the most flattering. This book is a revealing account of Mrs. Lincoln's time in the White House and what happened to her after her husband's untimely death.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By C. Ellen Connally on February 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I, like other readers, had great expectations about this book. Some years ago I actually read Mrs. Keckley's book and looked forward to an indepth novel about her life and relationship with the Lincoln's. This novel would be great for a junior highschool student who did not know anything about the Civil War, Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln or Mrs. Keckley. There is no real character development. Its as if the author took a simple history of the Civil War and put Mrs. Keckley in it and mixed in quotes from Mrs. Keckly's memoirs. You can get the same amount of knowledge by reading wikepedia on Mrs. Keckly - probably more.

Don't bother with this one. If you really want to read about Mrs. Keckly read her memoirs - BEHIND THE SCENES. Chiaverini tells the same story but in her words. Better to go to the original source.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Healthy People Press (Consignment) on March 29, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Except for the important fact that Chiaverini did bring my attention to Elizabeth Keckley about whom I'd have known nothing, this was a book that flat out made me angry. My ire only increased when I downloaded the Kindle version of Keckley's own memoir and found that Chiaverini lifted enormous hunks of material straight from Keckley's own writing. In the vast majority of scenes in the novel where there was dialogue, that dialogue had been transcribed practically word-for-word from Keckley's memoir. So, what was the point of writing a novel? Had it been written fifty years ago, it would have been blatant plagiarism. As it is, Keckley's memoir has passed into the public domain so I suppose it's fair game. But I still consider this treatment to be moral, if not legal plagiarism.

Had Chiaverini really breathed life into this interesting woman and helped us see the times for middle and upper class free blacks as Keckley was, the book might have merit. She didn't do that. She reiterated what Keckley had already written and focused far more on Mary Todd Lincoln than on Elizabeth Keckley. And even that she did with heavy-handed redundancy, giving us endless blow-by-blow accounts of Civil War events easily recognized by this reader as having been written far better by more talented historians and writers than Chaverini will ever be.

I am glad to know of Elizabeth Keckley. But she deserved far better treatment than this author gave her. Chiaverini's book inspires my anger on Keckley's behalf - and on the behalf of every other author who struggles to get published while this tripe remains on the market.
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