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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.
What made the experience of listening to Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker the most enjoyable?
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.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker?
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.
Which character – as performed by Christina Moore – was your favorite?
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.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
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.
Any additional comments?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book-story, narrator, delivery.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker in three words, what would they be?
Who was your favorite character and why?
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.
Have you listened to any of Christina Moore’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
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.
Any additional comments?
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.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
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.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
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!
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
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.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful
Although the perspective was interesting, I would've liked more interaction with the rest of the characters. The small snippets with the President were just a tease. If this dressmaker truly was a witness to historic moments, it would've been fascinating to hear/read more (even if it is fictional) of that experience. Unfortunately, he was just a passing character for most of the book... Mrs. Lincoln just got to be annoying toward the end and I just wanted it to be over.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Is there anything you would change about this book?
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.
If you’ve listened to books by Jennifer Chiaverini before, how does this one compare?
First one I've read and probably my last.
What about Christina Moore’s performance did you like?
Always enjoy Christina Moore. She is a fantastic narrator.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
This was a fascinating story and great listen. The performer did a fabulous job and the writer made Mrs. Eckley, Mrs. Lincoln and their relationship come to life. By the end, however, I found Mrs. Eckley (spelling?) a little too innocent and selfless to believe. I can't believe such a smart businesswoman would be taken for so many rides.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
No. This book looked promising as I'm always interested in historical novels. I wasn't in love with the narrator when I bought it but hoped the story would be interesting enough to carry her. Alas, it fell short all the way around. So short that I dreaded going on my daily walk knowing I had this book waiting for me. I stopped listening about halfway thru - I realized I was avoiding my walk because of this story. Life's too short to listen to 7 more hours of drone, fake-y voices.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
Well,probably most interesting was the fact that an ex slave could sew for The First Lady. I'd hoped to learn more about Mrs Lincoln, her clothing and how an ex slave could build such a great dressmaking business. But it either was so poorly narrated that my mind wandered and/or story not developing that I gave up.
How could the performance have been better?
Get a different narrator. Her voices made mockeries of the characters. And it was hard to tell who was speaking. She was boring but also lacking in the ability to bring the characters to life and make them memorable.
Do you think Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?
I don't know, as I never finished the book.
Any additional comments?
I just won't buy anytHing with this narrator anymore.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker again? Why?
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.
What other book might you compare Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker to and why?
Twelve Years a Slave.
What does Christina Moore bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
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.
If you could rename Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, what would you call it?
Needle in the Whitehouse
Any additional comments?
'Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker' inspired me to my next read, Elizabeth Keckley's own memoir.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful