Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Authors
Books
Features
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • The Dressmaker
  • Written by Kate Alcott
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780307948199
  • Our Price: $15.00
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Dressmaker

Buy now from Random House

  • The Dressmaker
  • Written by Kate Alcott
  • Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780385535588
  • Our Price: $25.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Dressmaker

Buy now from Random House

  • The Dressmaker
  • Written by Kate Alcott
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780385535625
  • Our Price: $9.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Dressmaker

Buy now from Random House

  • The Dressmaker
  • Written by Kate Alcott
    Read by Susan Duerden
  • Format: Unabridged Compact Disc | ISBN: 9780307970121
  • Our Price: $40.00
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Dressmaker

Buy now from Random House

  • The Dressmaker
  • Written by Kate Alcott
    Read by Susan Duerden
  • Format: Unabridged Audiobook Download | ISBN: 9780307970138
  • Our Price: $22.50
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook
  • Audiobook

Written by Kate AlcottAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kate Alcott



eBook

List Price: $9.99

eBook

On Sale: February 21, 2012
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-385-53562-5
Published by : Anchor Knopf

Audio Editions

Read by Susan Duerden
On Sale: February 21, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-97013-8
More Info...
$40.00

Published by: Random House Audio

Read by Susan Duerden
On Sale: February 21, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-97012-1
More Info...
Listen to an excerpt
Visit RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO to learn more about audiobooks.


The Dressmaker Cover

Bookmark,
Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - The Dressmaker
  • Email this page - The Dressmaker
  • Print this page - The Dressmaker
ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE PRAISE
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.
 
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 a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.
 
Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.
 
On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.

Excerpt

1

cherbourg, france april 10, 1912

Tess pulled at the corners of the sheets she had taken straight from the line and tried to tuck them tight under the mattress, stepping back to check her work. Still a bit bunchy and wrinkled. The overseer who ran this house was sure to inspect and sniff and scold, but it didn’t matter anymore.

She glanced out the window. A woman was walking by, wearing a splendid hat topped with a rich, deep-­green ribbon, twirling a bright-­red parasol, her face lively, her demeanor confident and sunny. Tess tried to imagine herself stepping forward so confidently without someone accusing her of behaving above her station. She could almost feel her fingers curling around the smooth, polished handle of that parasol. Where was the woman going?

She gazed back at the half-­made bed. No more fantasizing, not one more minute of it.

She walked out into the central hall and stopped, held in place by the sight of her reflection in the full-­length gilded mirror at the end of the hall. Her long dark hair, as always, had pulled out of a carelessly pinned bun, even as the upward tilt of her chin, which had so often registered boldness, remained in place. But there was no denying the shameful crux of what she saw: a skinny young girl wearing a black dress and a white apron and carrying a pile of dirty linens, with a servant’s cap sitting squarely and stupidly on the top of her head. An image of servitude. She yanked the cap off her head and hurled it at the glass. She was not a servant. She was a seamstress, a good one, and she should be paid for her work. She had been tricked into this job.

Tess dumped the soiled linens down the laundry chute and climbed the stairs to her third-­floor room, untying her apron as she went. Today, yes. No further hesitation. There were jobs available, the dockworkers had said, on that huge ship sailing for New York today. She scanned the small room. No valise—­the mistress would stop her cold at the door if she knew she was leaving. The picture of her mother, yes. The money. Her sketchbook, with all her designs. She took off her uniform, put on her best dress, and stuffed some undergarments, stockings, and her only other dress into a canvas sack. She stared at the half-­finished ball gown draped over the sewing machine, at the tiny bows of crushed white velvet she had so painstakingly stitched onto the ballooning blue silk. Someone else would have to finish it, someone who actually got paid. What else? Nothing.

She took a deep breath, trying to resist the echo of her father’s voice in her head: Don’t put on airs, he always scolded. You’re a farm girl, do your job, keep your head down. You get decent enough pay; mind you don’t wreck your life with defiance.

“I won’t wreck it,” she whispered out loud. “I’ll make it better.”

But, even as she turned and left her room for the last time, she could almost hear his voice following her, as raspy and angry as ever: “Watch out, foolish girl.”

The rotting wood planks beneath Lucile’s feet were spongy, catching her boot heels as she made her way through the crowd on the Cherbourg dock. She pulled her silver-­fox stole snugly around her neck, luxuriating in the plush softness of the thick fur, and lifted her head high, attracting many glances, some triggered by the sight of her brilliantly red hair, others by the knowledge of who she was.

She glanced at her sister walking quickly toward her, humming some new song, twirling a red parasol as she walked. “You do enjoy playing the blithe spirit, don’t you?” she said.

“I try to be an agreeable person,” her sister murmured.

“I have no need to compete; you may have the attention,” Lucile said in her huskiest, haughtiest voice.

“Oh, stop it, Lucy. Neither of us is impoverished on that score. Really, you are cranky lately.”

“If you were presenting a spring collection in New York in a few weeks, you’d be cranky, too. I have too much to worry about with all this talk of women hiking their skirts and flattening their breasts. All you have to do is write another novel about them.”

The two of them started squeezing past the dozens of valises and trunks, brass hinges glowing in the waning light, their skirts of fine wool picking up layers of damp dust turned to grime.

“It’s true, the tools of my trade are much more portable than yours,” Elinor said airily.

“They certainly are. I’m forced to make this crossing because I don’t have anyone competent enough to be in charge of the show, so I must be there. So please don’t be frivolous.”

Elinor closed her parasol with a snap and stared at her sister, one perfect eyebrow arched. “Lucy, how can you have no sense of humor? I’m only here to wish you bon voyage and cheer you on when the ship departs. Shall I leave now?”

Lucile sighed and took a deep breath, allowing a timed pause. “No, please,” she said. “I only wish you were sailing with me. I will miss you.”

“I would like nothing better than to go with you, but my editor wants those corrected galleys back by the end of the week.” Elinor’s voice turned sunny again. “Anyway, you have Cosmo—­such a sweetheart, even if he doesn’t appreciate poetry.”

“A small defect.”

“He’s a dear, and his best gift to you has been a title. Is that too crass? But it is true that he has no literary appreciation.” Elinor sighed. “And he can be boring.”

“Nonsense.”

“You know it as well as I do. Where is he?”

Lucile was scanning the crowd, searching for the tall, angular figure of Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon. “This delay is maddening. If anybody can get things operating efficiently and on time, Cosmo can.”

“Of course. That’s his job.”

Lucile glanced sharply at Elinor, but she was looking elsewhere, an innocent expression on her face.

Up the hill, away from the shipyard, amid the sprawling brick mansions on the bluffs of the Normandy coast, Tess was marching downstairs to the parlor. Waiting for her was the mistress, a prim Englishwoman with lips so thin they seemed stitched together.

“I want my pay, please,” Tess said, hiding the canvas sack in the folds of her skirt. She could see the envelope waiting for her on the corner table by the door, and began edging toward it.

“You haven’t finished my gown for the party, Tess,” the woman said in a more querulous tone than usual. “And my son could hardly find a towel in the hall closet this morning.”

“He’ll find one now.” She was not going back upstairs. She would never again be backed into that linen closet, fighting off the adolescent son’s eager, spidery fingers. That was her envelope; she could see her name written on it, and she wasn’t standing around to hear the usual complaints before it was doled out. She moved closer to the table.

“You’ve said that before, and I’m going upstairs right now to check.” The woman stopped as she saw the girl reaching out for the envelope. “Tess, I haven’t given that to you yet!”

“Perhaps not, but I have earned it,” Tess said carefully.

“Rudeness is not admirable, Tess. You’ve been very secretive lately. If you pick that up before I give it to you, you have burned your bridges with me.”

Tess took a deep breath and, feeling slightly dizzy, picked up the envelope and held it close, as if it might be snatched away.

“Then I have,” she said. Without waiting for a reply, she opened the heavily ornate front door she would never have to polish again and headed for the docks. After all her dreaming and brooding, the time was now.

The dock was slippery with seaweed. Heart pounding, she pressed into the bustle and chaos around her and sucked into her lungs the sharp, salty air of the sea. But where were the signs advertising jobs? She accosted a man in a uniform with large brass buttons and asked in hesitant French and then urgent English who was in charge of hiring staff for cleaning and cooking on that big new ship.

“You’re too late, dear, the servicepeople have all been hired and the passengers will soon be boarding. Bad luck for you, I’m afraid.” He turned away.

It didn’t matter how brightly she smiled; her plan was falling apart. Idiot—­she should have come down earlier. What now? She gulped back the hollow feeling of not knowing what came next and tried to think. Find families; look for young children. She would be a good nanny. Didn’t having seven younger brothers and sisters count as experience? She was ready to go, no trouble at all; all she had to do was find the right person and say the right things and she could get away. She would not, she would not be trapped; she would get out.

But no one paid her any heed. An elderly English couple shrank back when she asked if they needed a companion for the trip. When she approached a family with children, offering her services, they looked at her askance, politely shook their heads, and edged away. What could she expect? She must look desperate, tangled hair and all.

“Lucy, look at that girl over there.” Elinor pointed a delicate, polished finger at the frantic Tess. “My goodness, she’s a beauty. Gorgeous, big eyes. Look at her running around talking to people. I think she’s trying to get on the ship. Do you think she’s running away from something? Maybe the police? A man?”

“I wouldn’t know, but I’m sure you’ll weave a good story out of it,” Lucy said, waving to Cosmo’s approaching figure. He looked, as usual, somewhat detached from his surroundings. Cool eyes, a calm demeanor; always in charge. Following him, at his heels, was a timid-­looking messenger.

“Lucile, there is a problem—­” Cosmo began.

“I knew it,” Lucile said, her jaw tightening. “It’s Hetty, isn’t it?”

“She says she is unable to come. Her mother is ill,” the messenger said. He bent forward almost in nervous homage—­as well he might, because Lucile was furious now.

“Tell that girl she can’t back out just before we sail. Who does she think she is? If she doesn’t board with us, she’s fired. Have you told her that?” She glared at the man.

“I have, Madame,” he ventured.

Tess heard the commotion and stopped, arrested by the sight of the two women. Could it be? Yes, one of them wore the same grand hat with the gorgeous green ribbon she had spied from the window; she was right here, idly tapping the ground with that same red parasol.

The other woman’s sharp voice jolted her attention away.

“A miserable excuse!” she snapped.

Someone hadn’t shown up for the trip, some kind of servant, and this small person with the bright-­red hair and crimson lipstick was furious. How formidable she looked. Her strong-­boned, immobile face admitted no compromise, and her wide-­set eyes looked as if they could change from soft to hard in seconds. There was no softness in them now.

“Who is she?” Tess demanded of a young man attached to the clustered group. Her voice was trembling. Nothing was working out.

“You don’t know?”

She looked again at the woman, noting how people slowed as they passed, whispering, casting admiring glances. Yes, there was something familiar.
Kate Alcott

About Kate Alcott

Kate Alcott - The Dressmaker

Photo © Marianna Koval

Kate Alcott is the pseudonym for journalist Patricia O’Brien, who has written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. As Kate Alcott, she is the author of The Dressmaker, a New York Times bestseller. She lives with her husband in Washington, D.C.

Praise

Praise

“From the minute Tess sets foot on the Titanic, this is the kind of novel you simply cannot put down and cannot forget.” —Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key 
 
“Seamlessly stitching fact and fiction together, Alcott creates a hypnotic tale.” —USA Today
 
 “Offers a heroine you can really root for.” —NPR, “All Things Considered”
 
“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.” —Isabel Wolff, author of A Vintage Affair

“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.” —Sarah Jio, author of The Violets of March and The Bungalow 
 
“[Alcott’s] research into the Titanic, its sinking, and the hearings subsequently prompted is impeccable. . . . Fascinating. . . . Historical figures become intricate characters in Alcott’s hands.” —Seattle Post Intelligencer
 
“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.” —Jenna Blum, author of Those Who Save Us

"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.” —The Huffington Post
 
“We learn a good deal about what it was like when the ship went down. But we also follow Tess as she learns about the high-fashion business in New York.” —The Washington Post
 
“A fascinating and thought-provoking book that begs us all to look at the sinking of the Titanic, how we view differences in the classes, and how we each would act in a similar situation. . . . An amazing journey.” —Bookreporter
 
 “Brims with engrossing storytelling. . . . For fans of Sarah Jio, Susanna Kearsley, and immigrant tales.” —Booklist
 
The Dressmaker achieves the remarkable—it makes the sinking of the Titanic feel like a story never told before.  By focusing on the search for justice in the aftermath of the tragedy, this compelling first novel examines humanity at its best and worst, as seen through the eyes of one of the ship's survivors, a courageous young woman who is determined to make her own way in America.” —Lauren Belfer, author of A Fierce Radiance

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about The Dressmaker, Kate Alcott's romantic and intriguing new novel.

About the Guide

Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.
 
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 a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.
 
Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.
 
On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.

About the Author

KATE ALCOTT was a reporter covering politics in Washington D.C., where she and her husband still live.

Discussion Guides

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?


Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: