New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Chiaverini illuminates the extraordinary friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a former slave who won her freedom by the skill of her needle, and the friendship of the First Lady by her devotion.
In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.
In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste”, responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.
Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.
©2013 Jennifer Chiaverini (P)2013 Recorded Books
Elizabeth Keckley was a former slave who earned her own freedom, and her son's, by sewing clothes. Her son, George, was conceived when Elizabeth was enslaved and her master raped her. But George was very dear to her anyway, and as the story opens, he is attending college in Ohio. Elizabeth has set up her business in Washington, DC in the 1860's, working out of a 'colored boardinghouse' , where Elizabeth had lots of friends. Her reputation soon has her making dresses for the DC elite.
When the Lincoln's come to the White House, Elizabeth becomes Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker, confidant, and apparently her only true friend. As Elizabeth comes and goes in the White House she becomes acquainted with everyone there , including the President, for whom she has great respect and hopes as becoming the "Great Emancipator".
The very intimate and interesting story chronicles the Civil War and the Lincoln family from Elizabeth's unique perspective. Tales of battles, huge death tolls, and political intrigue are interesting in and of themselves. The interaction of Elizabeth with Mary Todd Lincoln also gives a fairly well balanced tale of a President's wife who was often depressed, angry, compulsively shopping for the White House or personal items, and grief stricken with her son's and husband's deaths. One of the most interesting periods came after the death of Abraham Lincoln when Mary Todd was on a campaign to get support as the former President's wife, especially since she was in great debt because of her massive spending sprees.
Life for freedman, through Elizabeth's eyes, before abolishment of slavery, was especially interesting. Also,the roll of 'colored people' trying to enlist in the army, plus the result of hoards of newly freed slaves coming into Washington with nothing to keep them alive, nor any means to support themselves, was even more interesting. Elizabeth's life and actions, as a real person in history, made for fascinating reading as she interacted with Mrs. Lincoln as well as her own people. Excellent reading for everyone wanting a balanced accounting of that period of history!
The narrator did a great job with all the different character's, both male and female. Cadance and rhythm of voice was even and easy to listen to. The book itself is very well written with great detail and visual information, making you feel as if you were there.
I hate to state the obvious, but the assassination of Mr. Lincoln. Not the shooting itself but the reaction of Mrs. Lincoln for weeks/months after. It was very sad to witness her grief through Mrs. Keckley's eyes and point of view.
Although Mrs. Keckley is the narrator of the story, I found Mrs. Lincoln fascinating. It didn't depict her as "crazy" as we usually hear but as a very insecure, lonely character who deeply loved her husband and who had already lost 2 of her sons before her husband. Her best and only friend was Mrs. Keckley, her freed African American dressmaker. I got the impression that she trusted very few people and would push others away before she could get hurt. That explained a lot of her manic/depressive behavior.
Not extreme. I just enjoyed it and found I missed hearing it after it was over. I was surprised by the ending. I also was very surprised how the entire country turned their back on Mrs. Lincoln after her husband's death. That was sad too.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book-story, narrator, delivery.
Who knew that at the time of great contention over slavery that Mary Lincoln's best friend was an African American seamstress? This book was obviously well researched and included a good bit of the author's imagination, a combination which made for an outstanding novel. While most of this author's books have been designed for quilters, this novel will appeal to a broader audience. Really enjoyed this one and may listen to it again.
Mrs. Lincoln was my favorite character in this story. I knew so little of her story after her husband was assassinated and she left the White House. So much of her misery was of her own making, but the disrespect with which she was treated after President Lincoln's murder was completely unnecessary. Her legacy has been much maligned by people who did not know her, or people who did know her that were jealous of her. The fact that she struggled in such a human way with her grief. . . not only of her husband's murder, but also the deaths of her two sons. . . was poignant and deeply touching. I'm not sure that I would have been able to act any differently had it been my husband and son.
I was struck by the moment in which President Lincoln addressed the crowds in the evening after the war's conclusion from the White House window. The comment that he could be shot by anyone in the crowd made me think about how accessible he was the people and how that is so different from today.
This is definitely a story based in historical documents, so if you are not interested in the details, this is not the story for you. However, I will say that so much of whether I like an audiobook is based on how well I like the performer, and you cannot go wrong with Christina Moore's characterization of people in this story. It is subtle, beautifully done, and not overwrought.
This book rates in the upper 3/4 of my listening
History - the freedom of slaves, at least for a while! Also the friendship that was formed between a very lonely person and her dependable dressmaker.
A very good reader that makes you want to listen more. Her ability to emphasize important information but also to have a kindness and empathy in her voice.
Elizabeth - I would like to learn her art from her, but also just sit and ask questions and listen to her experiences.
I think the author does her history research and homework very well before she starts writing.
I usually enjoy historical fiction, but it was very slow and monotone. I had to listen to the same chapter three times, as my interest kept wanning
The Third Bullet
the concept for the story is good-may be better in paper
The description of this story led me to believe that it would be an engaging, insightful story about Mrs. Lincoln and her dressmaker. It felt more like a very long lecture in a history class. There were way too many facts and not enough storytelling. The characters lacked a true connection and though the story seemed thoroughly researched, it didn't keep my attention. I finished it simply because I bought it, not because I was really interested in it.
First one I've read and probably my last.
Always enjoy Christina Moore. She is a fantastic narrator.
Tell us about yourself!
As a historical fiction it was by far one of the best documented and most sympathetic to all women of the times both of the North and of the South. Usually, Mrs. Lincoln has been vilified in most accounts as the first lady;however, in this account her character seemed more balance in its portrayal. Secondly, both the written and oral narrative were captivating in bring the reader along side of the characters in their personal struggles and triumphs. In conclusion, through the narrative I gain a better understanding the presidency of the nineteenth century and the day to day life of women from the perspective a free business mulatto woman.
One of the most memorable moments of life of Elizabeth Keckley was when found out she had been betrayed by some she trusted. After she had request that the editor of her autobiography not include the actual letters of Mrs. Lincoln he asked to read so he could do the final editing. He totally disregarded her wishes and had sent them to the printer for publication. Perhaps he not being a free woman of color he was too foolish to understand the long range repercussion his cavalier behavior would cost Mrs. Keckley and other of her status in Antebellum America.I shivered as I listened and became anxious. Shame on him for his lack of wisdom, honesty and forethought..
The narrator brought out the pathos of the unfortunate times of the War Between the States and the Reconstruction period in America.The human sagas.of the diverse population caught in the grips of greed, cruelty and hatred was dramatized by the narrator. She held my attention and built tension through her dramatic reading. Bravo!
I don't think I could take any of the characters out to dinner,because I am too upset with their naivety and gullibility. Remember I am an outsider and I have one hundred years separation.However, it seemed that the desire for gain and perhaps fame lead to the degradation of a very brave and strong woman Maybe it was stupidity that had caused some to give the woman misguided advice. She was free; but not yet a full citizen, and she was still perceived as second class. Reflecting on both her and their behaviors and attitudes which led to Mrs. Keckly's disgrace and poverty has left me bad dinner company.
Perhaps a debate :)
Read about American History which we must learn and ponder; then vow to live out the values delineated in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence .. Mrs. Keckly and Mrs. Lincoln were women whose lives reflect their period of history. I am glad I have the privilege to learn from their lives.
Avid reader, history buff, mom, professional.
Yes - Elizabeth Keckly's story is riveting, amazing - and true. I did not know the 'Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker' is rooted the story of an amazing women in one of the United States' darkest times.
Twelve Years a Slave.
Christina Moore articulates each character effectively, narrating Chiavarini's Elizabeth Keckly with dignity and drama. Her firm tone and wonderful pace made made the story one I could not put down, and I walked and drove worked with this story in my ear, unwilling to let it go until story's end.
Needle in the Whitehouse
'Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker' inspired me to my next read, Elizabeth Keckley's own memoir.
Civil War, backstabbing cabinet, difficult wife, dying children.... If I could invite 10 people, living or dead, to dinner, Mr. Lincoln would certainly be one of them and Elizabeth Keckley loved him too. She is the subject of this book and was an intimate member of the Lincoln White House and visited there frequently. I am so impressed with her accomplishments and her ability to navigate the Lincolns' life and many other high level Washingtonians at this time in history. She was clearly an extraordinary woman, if somewhat naive, and I am happy that Jennifer Chiaverini took the time to research and evaluate her importance in the Lincolns' lives. If you are a student of history, especially the Lincolns, you will love this book. The narrator, Christina Moore, is really good.
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