Synopses & Reviews
Claude Reynaud is an old-fashioned tailor, designing his famous gowns by hand in a cluttered studio well outside Paris. But one spring afternoon a woman arrives in search of a wedding dress and shatters all his composure: Valentine de Verlay is charming, beautiful, sophisticated, and, of course, engaged. Though he has long since given up on romance in favor of his work, Claude is instantly smitten.
As Valentine's wedding approaches, Claude finds it impossible to keep a safe distance, and everything he's come to rely on in his small, focused life looks ready to collapse. Worse still, it appears that Valentine may share his feelings.
The Dressmaker is a perfect gem of a novel, an enchanting portrait of another world, and, above all, a sly and irresistible love story.
About the Author
Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck has written for Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Working Woman, among other publications. She lives in Connecticut.
Reading Group Guide
1. Early in the book, on the subject of the fashion industry in France, Elizabeth Oberbeck writes, "times were changing," and much of the story deals with conflict between old-fashioned ways and modern ones. Do you think one way of life is favored over the other in this story? If so, how does the author demonstrate this? Does Claudes life in Senlis or his life in Paris seem more appealing to you?
2. What does it say about Valentine that she asks Claude to design her wedding dress without naming any criteria or making any demands? Is this willingness to give up control part of what draws Claude to her? Do you think it has any effect on the fate of her marriage and her relationship with Claude?
3. Nearly every time a character appears on the scene in the novel, their clothing is described. How does the author use clothing to suggest something about a character? What are some of the most memorable, most vividly described outfits in the book?
4. Do you think Valentine is happy in her relationship with Victor when she first meets Claude? If so, what is it about Claude that attracts her, and why does she get involved with him?
5. When Valentine and Claude are together in the wine cellar (page 47), she wants to smash the 1764 bottle of wine. "Lets be the last hands to touch it!" she says. Can you relate to Valentines desire to destroy this relic? What do you think is behind this desire?
6. Are you surprised by how aggressively Claude pursues Valentine, considering how passive he has been up to this point (for example, on page 61 we read that "Claude would have remained married to Rose-Marie if she hadnt left him.")? Do you think hes wrong to do so? Is there any justification for actively pursuing someone you know to be engaged?
7. On page 63, Claude thinks to himself, "It has happened to me as well! I wasnt watching, and now I am an old man!" Do you think his fear of aging drives him in any way towards Valentine? (Doyou think its possible that as people get older and see how much time has gone by, they are more likely to go after what they want, despite the risks involved?)
8. Look at Claudes encounter with the old man on the train (pages 70-71). Why do you think the author included this scene? What is its significance to the larger story?
9. When Valentine asks Claude why he doesnt move to Paris (page 87), he wonders if perhaps living in Paris would make him more attractive to her. Do you think he adapts to Valentines expectations in the novel, transforms himself in order to win her? Do you think adapting is an essential part of attracting someone and falling in love, or do you believe that people are most likely to fall in love when they are truly themselves and conceal nothing?
10. "I know I should not say this to you, that its careless, thoughtless, to say it, but I will! Since weve been apart, Ive clung to you, unsuspectingly" (pages 148-149). In this and other passages, Valentine goes against her better judgment to confess her feelings to Claude. Do you think this is the right thing to do? Do you think shes leading him on, when in fact she intends to go back to her husband? If you were in Valentines position, how would you handle it?
11. The Paris fashion house where Claude goes to work clearly operates on a very different set of principles from those that Claudes father taught him. What do you think the author is trying to say about creativity versus money-making? Do you think that portrait of the Paris fashion world is exaggerated or unfair? Do you think Claude should have stayed in Senlis, despite the limitations of his life there?
12. Pascales death is clearly devastating to Claude, largely for the effect it has on his nephew. But do you think witnessing the relationship between Henri and PAscale has changed the way Claude thinks about his own life? How do you think it chanthoughts about Valentine?