Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

Title:  Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
Author:  Jennifer Chiaverini
Publication Information:  Penguin Group, Inc. 2013. 356 pages. 

Book Source:  I read this book based on its description. The book came as a hardcover edition from the library.

Favorite Quote:  "She was a free woman in a nation united and at peace. She had lived a full and fascinating life. She had known the most remarkable people of her age, and she had never refused to help the humble and down-trodden. Despite the disappointments and losses and heartbreaks, she would not have wished her life a single day shorter - nor, when the time came for her to join the many friends and loved ones who had gone on before her, would she demand an hour more."

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. She lived as a slave for over 30 years. She was able to purchase her freedom, and she headed north. She eventually settled in Washington DC and became the mantua maker for the wives of the politicians in the area. She received an introduction to Mary Todd Lincoln and based on her skill, became Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker.

More than that, she became Mary Todd Lincoln's friend starting from when Abraham Lincoln was elected president through the Civil War through Lincoln's assassination and beyond. It is through this vantage point that this book tells the story of this time in our history.

Prior to reading this book, I was not aware of Elizabeth Keckley or that she penned a controversial autobiography titled Behind the Scenes: Or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. This autobiography was in effect the cause of her estrangement from Mary Lincoln.

The book Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker purports to be historical fiction, but it reads more like history. Fascinating history about a critical period for our country, but history nevertheless. I found the focus of the book to be the history with Elizabeth's story providing a running theme through it. I wish it had been the other way around - Elizabeth' story told with greater emotion and feeling with the history providing a background.

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