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The Dressmaker

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The Dressmaker Cover

ISBN13: 9780307948199
ISBN10: 0307948196
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 remains in many people’s eyes a symbolic dividing line between a world with rigid class divisions and one with a rising middle class. Tess yearned to be part of the glamour and Jim wanted to be free of its constraints. Can a happy medium be found between these two desires, not only for Tess and Jim, but for anyone in similar circumstances?

2. Tess and Pinky were two young women in a rapidly changing world, on the cusp of a time when women could actually make choices about their lives and work.  Describe how the choices for women one hundred years ago differ from today, and how they remain the same.

3. Tess and Pinky are both smart, competent women who experience moments of both conflict and companionship with one another. What ultimately draws them together and bonds their friendship?

4. In many ways Tess is unflappable and emotionally direct, but at times, she can be anxious and uncertain, especially around Lucille.  Dealing with design—fabric, texture, and color seem to be the best route to confidence. What does this say about Tess’ personality?

5. What is your overall impression of Lucile?  Is she a villain or simply misunderstood? If her arrogance and sense of privilege are what got her into trouble, what redeeming factors—if any—do you see in her?

6. How would you argue Lucille’s case? Compare her treatment to that of celebrities of our own time who get caught in controversy.

7. Fashion is its own character in the book—both glamorous and fickle. Is the fashion industry viewed differently now than it was in 1912? Who is Lucille’s design equivalent today? Or was Lucille incomparable?

8. If Lucille’s career had not declined after the sinking, do you think she could have evolved as a designer and conformed to society’s new opinions of the female figure and fashion? Or were both Lucille and her designs destined to become obsolete?

9. Only one of twenty lifeboats went back for survivors. Many people felt anguish and regret; others believed they had no choice.  Can you picture yourself in that same situation? Husbands, children in the water—what comes first, the instinct to survive or to save others? How would you hope you would act?

10. Officer Harold Lowe was criticized for declaring he waited until the pleas for help from the water “thinned out” before going back on a rescue mission.  This kind of blunt honesty shocked those who heard it. Are we still adverse to hearing hard facts from those whom we want to be heroes?

11. Using the “whitewash brush,” as a ship officer put it, the White Star Line did its best to deny all responsibility for the Titanic tragedy. Its officers even falsely claimed at first that the ship had not sunk, raising the hopes of the families waiting on land. What parallels do you see with White Star’s corporate reaction and current corporate self-protectiveness?

12. Did you find out anything new about the Titanic from reading the book? Were you aware of the hearings that occurred after the sinking?

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

emmejo, July 21, 2013 (view all comments by emmejo)
Tess leaves behind her job as a housemaid to work for Lady Duff Gordon, a well-respected fashion designer. However, she doesn't realize that this will take her on an infamous sea trip aboard the Titanic. When the ship sinks, she manages to get to a lifeboat, but her emotional trials aren't ended by setting her feet on the solid ground. Her employer ends up under investigation for taking a lifeboat with few people and refusing to help evacuate the other possible survivors. Tess is left torn between loyalty to her mistress, the honest, kind sailor who has accused her and the elusive truth.

I didn't like this book as much as I had hoped. I thought a look at the legal and personal consequences of the Titanic accident was a fascinating subject. Sadly, I suspect the publisher didn't agree, as the plot is badly bogged down with historical romance tropes that don't mesh well with the seeming subject.

I also hated Tess. Many narrating characters tend to be bland and a little out of the action, so I can't entirely blame the author for this, but Tess was also unlikeable and unlikely to have had these events happen to her. She's rude to anyone, including her employers, selfish and self-centered, has no sense of decorum, dangerously impulsive and bossy. Yet we are suppose to believe nearly everyone she meets likes her immensely, finds her amazingly talented, forgives her all her flaws and if male, falls in love with her. Yeah right! I wanted to slap her before she even met Lady Duff Gordon.

It was beyond my credulity to think she actually would have kept her job, let alone become someone important within such a short time. I think the author was going for "teenage rebel", but ended up with "brat" instead, and the simple fact is that rebels had little place in Victorian high society, particularly not with Lady Duff Gordon's particularly rigid type.
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writermala, June 24, 2013 (view all comments by writermala)
We believed that we knew everything there was to know about the Titanic and all the more so after we saw the movie; but Kate Alcott has surpassed all that in her powerful novel, "The Dressmaker."

I was not sure whether to consider it History, Drama, or Romance and I was hoping that despite all the twists and turns the story would end as I wanted it to. Starting as it does with a tragedy of epic proportions things can only get better or can they not? Read this masterfully told novel and find out.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307948199
Author:
Alcott, Kate
Publisher:
Anchor Books
Subject:
Romance - Historical
Subject:
Historical
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20130131
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
8 x 5.2 x 0.8 in 0.6 lb

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The Dressmaker Used Trade Paper
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$9.50 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Anchor Books - English 9780307948199 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Folds compelling story into Titanic tragedy....Seamlessly stitching fact and fiction together, Alcott creates a hypnotic tale."
"Review" by , "Why write a Titanic story not really about the Titanic? Because what happens to the survivors makes for interesting reading...compelling....Her research into the Titanic, its sinking, and the hearings subsequently prompted is impeccable...fascinating....actual historical figures become intricate characters in Alcott's hands."
"Review" by , "If you want a fictional escape [about the Titanic], then it's time to turn to a new novel called The Dressmaker...the book explores complicated gender dynamics of the time, and offers a heroine you can really root for."
"Review" by , "Kate Alcott seamlessly stitches fact and fiction together creating this wonderfully colorful book. This story has many layers and reaches far beyond the tragedy of the Titanic...riveting....This novel is steeped in truth woven together with fiction making this Titanic tale feel like one never told before...beautifully told and really examines loss, love, survival and the choices made in between."
"Review" by , "It's Titanic revisited, in a romance focused on the survivors and the scandal, seen from the perspective of an aspiring seamstress whose fortunes intertwine with real characters from the epic tragedy...interesting historical facts...an appealing, soulful freshness to this shrewdly commercial offering."
"Review" by , "Brims with engrossing storytelling....For fans of Sarah Jio, Susanna Kearsley, and immigrant tales."
"Review" by , "While reading The Dressmaker, I felt as if I were actually living and breathing the events before, during and after the tragedy....The novel is filled with the atmosphere, clothes, and historical figures of the times, including the Astors, 'The Unsinkable' Molly Brown, and J. Bruce Ismay, the White Star's Managing Director, who cowardly boarded a lifeboat before others."
"Review" by , "The 1912 sinking of the Titanic is the stone at the center of a ripple expanding to encompass the rest of the world in this fictionalized account of real historical persons and events. It is a layered story highlighting class differences and the public and private personas people put on as easily as high-fashion dresses, illustrating both the tragedy’s individual torment as well as a larger wave of survivor’s guilt. Multiple points of view bring many perspectives to the witch-hunt atmosphere and courtroom drama of a shocked world looking for someone to blame....A low hum of background action — suffragettes and union tensions — mirrors the human costs in the disaster that besets the Titanic...will find much to think about in this story shaped by the inherent desire to know more about one of the most documented and researched tragedies in human history."
"Review" by , “Kate Alcott’s The Dressmaker is a beautifully told story that examines loss, love, couture and the choices we make when everything is on the line — all sewn together into one compelling read. I can’t stop thinking about this book and its characters.”
"Review" by , "We're all riveted by a tragedy, but what happens to the survivors? The Dressmaker is that rare novel that asks not only what comes next but what we would do in a morally unspeakable situation — and how we live with those choices. A brave, truly gripping novel."
"Review" by , “This is a fascinating premise for a novel as well as a powerful, page-turning read. It's also a very valuable contribution to our understanding of the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic, and its aftermath.”
"Synopsis" by , Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she’s had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be her personal maid on the Titanic. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men — a kind sailor and an enigmatic Chicago businessman — who offer differing views of what lies ahead for her in America. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes, and amidst the chaos, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat.

The survivors are rescued and taken to New York, but when rumors begin to circulate about the choices they made, Tess is forced to confront a serious question. Did Lady Duff Gordon save herself at the expense of others? Torn between loyalty to Lucile and her growing suspicion that the media’s charges might be true, Tess must decide whether to stay quiet and keep her fiery mentor’s good will or face what might be true and forever change her future.

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