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.
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New point of view
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.
A Wonderful Re-Imagining of Mrs. Keckley's Life
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.