“The Dressmaker,” by Kate Alcott, is a compelling novel of historical fiction that tells the story of the aftermath of the Titanic tragedy.
An inquiry was held in New York right after the survivors docked, to which reporters flocked for stories, especially human interest angles. Much of this novel is based on the transcripts of that inquiry intertwined with romance from the perspective of an aspiring seamstress.
Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, an historical figure, was a leading designer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this novel, protagonist Tess Collins is her assistant aboard the Titanic, a seamstress who believes this job is her big break.
Due to a lack of lifeboats onboard, only a third of the passengers survived. Sixty percent of those who did survive were from first class. Lady Lucile and her husband Sir Cosmo were at the center of controversy after the lifeboat they were in left the Titanic first with only 12 people aboard, instead of the 50 for which it was designed. Hearing this, the public was outraged.
It was 1912 and times were changing. Unions were forming, suffragettes were marching and people wanted justice for the steerage class who had mostly been left behind to drown.
During the voyage on the Titanic, protagonist Tess meets two men, a kind-hearted sailor and a Chicago millionaire, both of whom capture her heart. With each she shares her dreams of what is possible in America. Only one survives.
The novel examines the choices people make under incredible pressure. As this novel proceeds, the author examines the characters’ actions from all angles, with raw emotions and a fresh view of the international tragedy. The author focuses primarily on the fictional story and characters than on the actual tragedy of the Titanic. The novel deals with what happened to the survivors afterwards and the media frenzy in New York.
Kate Alcott is a pseudonym of author and journalist Patricia O’Brien, who has six novels and three non-fiction books to her credit.