Fourteen years ago I student taught a third grade group of students. I totally lucked out that the reading curriculum I was in charge of teaching contained a unit on disasters. The Titanic was one of the disasters. Pompei and the Great Molasses Flood in Boston were two others. Although I hadn't done any research on the Titanic prior to my teaching experience, I quickly fell in love with this unit, and the kids did, too. There was so much information available to us and we spent a great deal of time exploring this topic. (Sadly, we eventually had to move on to one of the other disasters lest we spend an entire year on just the Titanic). So, I have always had a bit of a soft spot in my heart for books on this topic. And, 2012 just happens to be the one hundredth anniversary of this tragedy, so books abound as the Titanic is explored once again. My own daughters don't appear to be quite as excited about the Titanic as I am, so I am left to read and learn on my own.
The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott is an adult novel, set around the events of the Titanic. Although most people have a basic understanding of the disaster, Alcott takes it a step further by exploring Lucy Duff Gordon and the role she and her husband played in the deaths of so many passengers.
Tess is a last minute hire by Lucy Duff Gordon and is excited to embark on this journey to America where she hopes to make a life for herself. Getting to work with this famous designer is almost more than she can handle. However, despite Duff Gordon taking Tess under her wing, she is also controlling and self-centered. When the Titanic hits an iceberg and passengers make their way into lifeboats, Lucy and her husband Cosmo are lowered into the ocean in a lifeboat containing only twelve people, but with a capacity of sixty. Tess is able to get into a later lifeboat, but as survivors regroup on the Carpathia and in New York City, many are troubled by the Duff Gordons lack of concern for those left to die. Tess tries to give Lucy the benefit of the doubt, but also is interested in making her way in the fashion world, something Lucy is able to make happen. As bits and pieces of the story of Lifeboat 1 unfold, Tess needs to decide if she can live with the knowledge of what her boss has done.
I could envision the opulence of the Titanic, and the amazing ship that Tess felt she was fortunate enough to be able to get on. I was amazed by the research Alcott did in order to accurately reflect the Duff Gordon's story. I spent many different occasions on Google looking up information about Lucy and Cosmo Duff Gordon and determining which parts of Alcott's story were fact and which were fiction. The Dressmaker certainly brings to light a portion of the Titanic's story that I had never heard before.
Although there are a lot of Titanic books being published now to commemorate the anniversary, The Dressmaker is a unique historical fiction take on the tragedy and the wealthy that were on this ship.