Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
By Jennifer Chiaverini
(Dutton Adult, Hardcover, 9780525953616, 352pp.)
Publication Date: January 15, 2013
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New York Times bestselling 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.
JENNIFER CHIAVERINI is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as five collections of quilt projects inspired by the novels. Her original quilt designs have been featured in Country Woman, Quiltmaker, and Quilt, and her short stories have appeared in Quiltmaker and Quilters Newsletter. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.
Praise for Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker
“History—and its colorful characters—come alive.” –USA Today
“Required Reading . . . The story of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and Lizzie Keckley, a former slave who became Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress and confidante. After the president’s assassination, Keckley created the Mary Todd Lincoln quilt and also a scandalous memoir. A new spin on the story.” –New York Post
“Jennifer Chiaverini imagines the first lady’s most private affairs through the eyes of an unlikely confidante.” –Harper’s Bazaar
“Chiaverini has drawn a loving portrait of a complex and gifted woman . . . Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker helps to illuminate the path on which her long and remarkable life led her.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“An example of what Jennifer Chiaverini does so well in her enlightening new historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, occurs late in the book, when a newly widowed Mary Todd Lincoln shares a letter of condolence from Queen Victoria with her dressmaker, a former slave named Elizabeth Keckley. . . . Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker vividly imagines how the Civil War touched daily life in Washington.” –Washingtonian
“Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker is a wonderful novel that covers many topics surrounding the events of the 1860s in Washington and the following decades… Any reader interested in President Lincoln, Civil War history, or historical fiction should love this book.” –Bookreporter.com
“All the characters are brilliantly written, and readers will enjoy getting to know them. [Chiaverini] brings to life long-forgotten snapshots of America’s past with style, grace and respect.” –RT Book Reviews
“A compelling historical novel.” –Desert News
“Taking readers through times of war and peace as seen through the eyes of an extraordinary woman, the author brings Civil War Washington to vivid life through her meticulously researched authentic detail. Chiaverini's characters are compelling and accurate; the reader truly feels drawn into the intimate scenes at the White House.” –Library Journal
“Nuanced... a welcome historical.” –Publishers Weekly
“A compelling fictional account of Keckley’s life.” –Bookpage
Praise for Sonoma Rose:
"Chiaverini does an excellent job of describing the lush landscapes of California wine country, while simultaneously painting a touching portrait of the difficulties faced by farming families who must tend to one another, as well as the earth.”
“Chiaverini has an impressive ability to bring a time and place alive, showcasing the effects of Prohibition on farmers in Sonoma Valley.”
—Romantic Times Book Review
“Together the two set out to make a new future for themselves in the wine country of Sonoma Valley in Chiaverini's emotionally compelling tale.”
Praise for Jennifer Chiaverini:
“Chiaverini has once again written an intense and beautiful book—so much so that readers will almost hear the hollow echo of the fife and drum as they immerse themselves in every compelling page...Truly unforgettable.”
“Jennifer Chiaverini’s strength is not only writing strong female characters, but also placing them in interesting lives and times.”
—New York Journal of Books