Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

A Novel

Chiaverini, Jennifer

Book - 2013
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
Presents a fictionalized account of the friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave.

Publisher: New York : Dutton, c2013.
ISBN: 9780142180358
Characteristics: 356 p. ;,24 cm.
Alternate Title: Missus Lincoln's dressmaker


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From the critics

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Aug 12, 2014
  • dralac00 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

this book was wonderful~~~l highly recommend it!

Jun 27, 2014
  • tea_n_tomes rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

I have not read any of the author's previous books; however, i agree with other readers who found this somewhere between fiction & fact. Though it piqued my interest to research this subject.

Jan 22, 2014
  • athompson10 rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

The history was interesting but the narration of the novel was very dry. It felt like the author just patched together historical facts with excerpts from Elizabeth Keckley's memoir without ever delving into her as a person. Most historical novels take some liberties to imagine what the characters were thinking and what their motivations were for their actions. This one doesn't and suffers for it.

Jan 04, 2014

Felt more like a nonfiction book or an article than it did a novel at times. More important scenes should have been dramatized instead of mentioned briefly and the mundane stuff should have been cut. Could have been a little shorter, but sympathetic characters and vivid time period descriptions.

If you're looking for a good story with more info about Mary Todd Lincoln, read An Unlikely Friendship by Ann Rinaldi. It covers the early lives of these two in vivid detail.

Jan 03, 2014

Costco pick of the month for January 2014.

Oct 05, 2013
  • jazpur rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

I found this book fascinating although the writing was somewhat patchy.Historical fiction entirely about real people is a difficult genre. Jennifer Chiavarini's approach to the Civil War in America from the Union perspective, involving the attitudes to slavery,colour and abolition through a study of Elizabeth Keckley and her relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln gave a different view of Abraham Lincoln.The Gettysburg Address was cut down to size in the Lincoln household. Their son was ill and Mrs Lincoln considered that was far more important than opening a cemetery.Needless to say, Abraham Lincoln did his Presidential duty and gave the most frequently quoted speech of his career. The reference in the credits to the Keckley Quilt having belonged to Ruth Finley of 'Old Patchwork Quilts' fame was tantalising.A quick check of her book availed me no mention of the quilt let alone a picture.However, Google came to my assistance and I was able, through Youtube, to see the actual quilt as it is today, at Kent State University Museum.It is a remarkable piece of designing as one would expect. The colours are beautiful and the embroidered elements rich..Elizabeth Keckley was truly a notable woman of her time.For additional background, google Elizabeth Keckley Quilt.

Aug 01, 2013
  • writermala rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Jennifer Chiaverini's book is about Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker. She gained her fame as Mrs. Lincoln's modiste - but she was far more than that; she was Mrs. Lincoln's dear friend and confidante, seeing her through several tough times.

Elizabeth, as the narrator spoke to me vividly and perhaps a telling comment is when she describes her father telling her to "learn your book." Yes, this slave woman who bought freedom for herself acquitted herself so well that she rose to heights no colored woman of her generation did.

Chiaverini tells this story with pathos, poetic license and yet a dedication to historical facts and rightly states that "In Washington's colored community, rank was determined according to one's wealth, distance from slavery, and lightness of skin tone."

Despite her immense success as a modiste(dressmaker) and her acceptance by the president's family Elizabeth was intensely aware of the way people of her race were treated. She uses the example of Tad Lincoln's struggles with reading to express her opinion that "If a white child appeared dull, he and he alone was thought to suffer from a lack of intelligence...,but if a colored boy appeared dull, the entire race was deemed unintelligent."

The author uses Elizabeth's ties with her ex-owners' families to illustrate her belief "that love is too strong to be blown away like gossamer threads. That sums up the book - Elizabeth's infinite capacity to love.

Jul 07, 2013
  • LouiseWilson rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Mrs. LIncoln's Dressmaker makes history come alive. Very well written, and quite moving.

Louise Wilson

Feb 20, 2013
  • sablegirl rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

I was a bit disappointed with this book. I thought the author, known for her quilt books, would have made this subject matter a bit less dry. I recently read a very short story about this subject matter and was satisfied with that. I thought this book would be a bit more interesting than it was. I read about a quarter of the book and gave up for a more interesting book. If you lean towards historical books, this is the book for you.

Feb 14, 2013
  • LaughingOne rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Slow-going at times, this novel is an insider's look at what could have been going on during the time leading up to and through the Civil War, as well as many years after. Elizabeth Keckley is portrayed as a sensitive, insightful, honourable woman, who mostly was true to sound values. Now I want to do some research on her and read non-fiction about her.
This book was not as alive for me as Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilt novels, but it is an interesting and enjoyable read.


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