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Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
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Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  20,004 Ratings  ·  3,022 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published January 15th 2013 by Dutton (first published January 5th 2013)
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Rating details
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Dec 05, 2012 rated it liked it
What an excellent subject for a book, but the execution was too dry, too much telling, not enough dialogue and direct character interaction, and too much listing off of Civil War events and leaders. I wanted to get more into the internal thoughts and motivations of Elizabeth and Mrs. Lincoln, but it felt more like reading a textbook than a novel. I felt kept at a distance from the primary focus of the book. Not bad, but not my favorite.
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: historical
Disclaimer: This review is based on an ARC edition of the novel I received from NetGalley.

Having never read Chiaverini before, I was free of most expectations but one. I thought the story was going to be about Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley. And, while ostensibly she narrates the novel, her personality and experience are almost non-existent.

The novel could rightly have been named "Mrs. Lincoln's Story, as Told by Her Dressmaker". The focus is so much on Mary Lincoln that Elizabeth'
Jan 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: civil-war
Redundant and unnecessary book; most of the content consists of verbatim quoting of Mrs Keckley's memoirs, with no new original research to expand her character. Only the last 10% contains anything different from the memoirs, and it feels rushed and incomplete since the last thirty years of her life are condensed in the retelling. Very disappointing. As I read this book I kept thinking how much stronger the novel would be if it was written from the perspective of one of her apprentices. As it is ...more
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
I found it interesting to read the reviews of this book on Goodreads -- many say this book was too dry, and too unlike Jennifer Chiaverini's other books. This is exactly why I liked it. The book was more about history than dress making. And I love reading history books, the more true to history, the better. The first half was almost like watching the movie "Lincoln". This is how I visualized Mrs. Lincoln -- as Sally Fields played her in the movie. I've not read other biographies of Mrs Lincoln, ...more
The Book Maven
May 15, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2013
To me, historical fiction is like a Chinese buffet--for the most part, I will devour it. And sometimes it will be really, really enjoyable; usually it will be satisfying. And every once in a great while, it will leave--not food poisoning, but at the very least a bad taste in my mouth, and a feeling of bloat, and a frustration of "I wasted my calories (time) on this?"

With grody Chinese food, it's usually lo mein noodles. And with historical fiction, it's this book. It has been a very long time si
Sidney Hartley
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
I loved the idea of the book. But I just didn't feel the characters. I found it quite dull to read. It would have been much better had it focused on Elzabeth's past and then took us to her successful days as a dressmaker.
Dec 10, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: america
Narra la leggenda che prendendo qualche volume di storia, alcune biografie, l’autobiografia (Dietro le quinte) di Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, si possa - copiando un po' qui, un po' lì e incollando tutto su un foglio elettronico intonso - fare un bel “taglia e cuci”.
Il risultato è presto dato e inserito dal New York Times fra i migliori bestseller del 2013.
Così, narra la leggenda.
Messa da parte la leggenda, rimane soltanto qualcosa che s'avvicina alla "pochezza".
Per raggiungere l’apoteosi della succ
Nathalie S
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I've read nearly all of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek books so I was really looking forward to reading this new one, about Elizabeth Keckley, who was Mary Todd Lincoln's modiste or in other words, her dressmaker. This book did not disappoint. Jennifer has a real talent of bringing history alive. Elizabeth was born into slavery but through sheer hard work and determination, she was able to buy, not only her own freedom, but also the freedom of her son. I was very impressed by her and by her ama ...more
Karen A. Wyle
Apr 30, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is called a novel, but it doesn't read like one. I was quite surprised to find, at the end, that the author has written many novels. This is "her first stand-alone work of historical fiction," and it is far more historical than fictional. It's essentially a historical account, sprinkled with occasional dialogue and superficial third person POV. It's almost all "tell," with only the occasional "show." Whatever structural characteristics a novel usually has, this book doesn't. (There are ...more
Feb 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
The long and the short of it

The short of it

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker was well written, kept my interest and introduced me to a period of history I knew very little about. For that reason, I am not in a position to comment on its historical authenticity. I found the book well researched and the author, Jennifer Chiaverini, provided an interesting and pretty extensive list of reference materials and books – some of which I hope to read at a later date.

Where I thought the book really shone was in
Wow! This was a very well-researched book. The characters were also well-written. I would recommend this book. It was so interesting to learn the details of the Civil War. I also tend to enjoy reading books with strong, female heroines. It is still hard for me to grasp all the struggles that slaves and Africa-Americans went through during those times.
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
I found the book to be disappointing. I was expecting to hear the details of the former slave who was closest to the Lincoln family during their turbulent years in the white house. What I got was a mostly about Mrs Lincoln and the Civil War than about the life of Elizabeth Keckley. I would assume that a woman with the talent and ability to purchase freedom for herself and her son, would not have allowed her life to be wind up in shambles supporting Mrs Lincoln's whims instead of attending to her ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Had to give up, sorry to say! Chiaverini obviously did her research, unfortunately, there is little in terms of original story going on, at least up to the point I have reached. Not for me, I'm afraid.

Find more reviews and bookish fun at
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2012
This story tells of the friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley. Lizzie, a slave who bought the way out of slavery for both herself and her son did so using her sewing talents. She went on to sew for some of the elite woman in Washington D.C. When Mrs. Lincoln moved to The White House she chose Lizzie over many applicants to be her her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in th ...more
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Three and a half stars: An interesting peek into the lives of two very different historical women.

Life hasn't always been easy for Elizabeth Keckley. She is a former slave who managed to buy her freedom and her son's as well. She is middle aged, estranged from her husband and building a dressmaking business in Washington D.C. Despite her difficulties, she endeavors to work hard and make the most of her opportunities. Her skills with the needle have landed her some prestigious clients, including
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Was very disappointed by this book. It was too focused on being “factual” and accurately depicting the events surrounding the Lincoln administration/Civil War era, embellished with some dialogue. I was expecting more of a narrative/inside look at the life of Elizabeth Keckley, that would be fictionalized to some degree. This book did not stray from fact, but that also had the effect of making the book read more like a political biography than a piece of historical fiction shaped around real peop ...more
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have quite a fascination with Mary Todd Lincoln (I even have a shelf dedicated to her) and by default, have read about Elizabeth Keckley. One can imagine my excitement when Jennifer Chiaverini announced her stand-alone historical fiction novel, “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker” depicting the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth from “Lizzie’s” point of view.

“Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker” immediately dives into the storytelling of Elizabeth Keckley and the Civil Warm era in the US. One doesn’t have t
Graham Crawford
Mar 30, 2013 rated it did not like it
I just finished Gore Vidal's Lincoln a few weeks ago and wanted to read more about the fascinating Mrs Keckley. Alas "Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker" was the wrong book for me. From the first page I could see the writing was not just simple (simple can work well in a mythic way), it was simplistic. Normally I would not waste my time writing a review for hack pulp like this, but I persevered with this book and my irritation turned to loathing. Mrs Keckley's story is an important one, and someone still ...more
Jan 31, 2013 rated it liked it
While this book was a perfectly pleasant read, it lacked a certain amount of power that kept me up and reading until the wee hours of the morning. Instead of a historical fiction revealing the intimacy between Mrs. Lincoln and her dressmaker, Mrs. Keckley, the reader simply gets another side of Mrs. Lincoln and her extraordinarily difficult life.

It took some patience to work my way through this book. While Chiaverini paints a charming portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, the "main" character Mrs.
Diane S ☔
Jan 06, 2013 rated it liked it
3.5 Just recently saw the movie, "Lincoln" which I felt was superb and Mrs. Keckley was actually part of the movie. This is one of my favorite periods in US history, as I am sure it is many others and I enjoyed much of this book. Loved the fact that she was accepted in many of the great houses of the time and overheard so much gossip, including that of the Davis's right after the succession of South Carolina. This part of the book was very interesting, made the seamstress and her character, come ...more
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it
2.5 stars

This was just okay for me. I think it is because I would have rather read a biography on Mrs. Lincoln or Elizabeth Keckley instead of a fictionalized account. I keep finding myself wondering which things are true and which are simply embellished for the novel. So I'm doing a lot of extra research that would probably be included in a non-fiction book on the women.
Kathy Pratt
Jun 05, 2014 rated it did not like it
I'm conflicted about writing a one star review. I'm an author, though none of my books are on the bestseller list. Still, I know how difficult writing can be and I appreciate all the effort that goes into writing a book. In the past, I haven't written bad reviews even when I didn't care for a book. My criticism isn't about how well the book is written, or about it being a good story. I'd rate it higher on both those counts. My criticism is because I feel that Ms. Chiaverini basically plagiarized ...more
Book Concierge
Book on CD narrated by Christina Moore

Elizabeth Keckley was a free Negro whose skill as a seamstress brought her to the attention of Washington D.C.’s leading ladies, including Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. Chiaverini’s novel tells Elizabeth’s story.

This was an interesting look at an era in history that we already know much about. I enjoyed the historical references and Elizabeth’s point of view of many of the events. It was an engaging story that held my interest. But …

I wish Chiaverini had given us m
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
What an interesting book! Elizabeth Keckley was born a slave in 1818. She was impregnated by her owner and bore a son. After being a slave for almost 38 years, she was able to save enough money to purchase freedom for herself and her son. She moved to Washington City (D.C.) and set up a business as a modiste (dressmaker). She was a very fine seamstress and was soon in demand to make dresses for the cream of Washington society. One of her favorite clients was the wife of Colonel Robert E. Lee. Mr ...more
Becky Loader
Feb 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
I came to this book with an acknowledged bias: I am an admirer of Mrs. Lincoln. I am also a Civil War re-enactor, so keep those two items in mind when you read my review.

I have read two of Chiaverini's Elm Creek quilt series. This is a stand-alone book.

The book has a slow start, then it picks up when the author brings in the larger picture of the War and how it is impacting the characters' lives. The author has done her research, and the incidents she uses are factual and verifiable in reliable
Maureen Timerman
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
This is not the first, nor will it be the last book, that I have read by Jennifer Chiaverini. This story is a about the relationship between Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley.
Lizzie was very skilled with a needle and became very much in demand in Washington DC. She offered to be almost exclusive to Mrs Lincoln, and they formed a very personal relationship. We travel with them through the beginning of the Civil War and beyond the assassination.
I felt like I was living right there, as
I dutifully read the first 100 pages in an attempt to keep up with my ladies' book group. Like many other reviewers here, I felt the telling of Keckley's experience in the White House rather benign and derivative. But I was determined to finish the book, and I was pleasantly surprised. Halfway through, (spoiler alert: Lincoln does not outlive his presidency, an event that is curiously and frequently foreshadowed in this narrative, as if it is an unexpected climax) the novel departs from Civil Wa ...more
Jul 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
After having read Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker I still am not sure who Elizabeth Keckley is. I know she was a sought after dressmaker and confidant of Mrs. Lincoln; but I never really got to know Elizabeth. I couldn't tell you if she was emotional or timid or courageous or if she shared laughs with many friends or grieved when others hurt; it just wasn't there. I also could not tell if Mrs. Lincoln and Elizabeth were exceptional loving and loyal friends or just employee and employer. There were mom ...more
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fans
I enjoyed every minute of Chiaverini's first foray into non-serial historical fiction. It is an intimate, well-researched look into the Lincoln White House and the life of Mrs. Lincoln's close friend and confidante Elizabeth Keckly, a former slave. Particularly fascinating was Mary Todd Lincoln's life after her husband's tragic assassination. Now I need to read Keckly's real life memoir, which caused such an uproar when it was published--Behind The Scenes. Nobody believed at the time that a form ...more
Jane Buchbauer
Jan 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker. It was a gentle glimpse into the world of an unlikely friendship. In the midst of a world where race made interpersonal relationships so complicated, it was interesting to see Elizabeth Keckley's roll as dressmaker and confidante to an increasingly unstable Mary Lincoln, first, develop, then, fall to pieces over, sadly, poor decisions. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in historical fiction based in this time period but not an especially enterta ...more
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Play Book Tag: Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker / Jennifer Chiaverini - 3*** 1 9 Jan 23, 2017 12:01PM  
2015 Reading Chal...: Mrs Lincon's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini 1 13 Aug 24, 2015 06:03PM  
Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 5 Nov 19, 2014 03:21PM  
¿Por qué no una traducción al Español? 1 3 Oct 22, 2014 03:46PM  
Translation to Spanish, why not? 1 9 Jul 07, 2014 06:04PM  
  • Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: The Unlikely Friendship of Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln
  • The Midwife's Tale (Midwife Mysteries, #1)
  • The Last Runaway
  • Summerset Abbey (Summerset Abbey, #1)
  • I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War
  • Shadow on the Crown (The Emma of Normandy Trilogy #1)
  • Widow of Gettysburg (Heroines Behind the Lines, #2)
  • Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I (Ladies in Waiting #3)
  • The Inquisitor's Wife
  • All Things New
  • The Typewriter Girl
  • Songs of Willow Frost
  • The Daring Ladies of Lowell
  • Benjamin Franklin's Bastard
  • A Soldier's Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, Civil War Hero
  • Hemingway's Girl
  • The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War
  • Paris
Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Se ...more
More about Jennifer Chiaverini

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“Then it occurred to her (Elizabeth Keckley) that if Tad (Lincoln’s son) had been a colored boy rather than the son of a president, and a teacher had found him so difficult to instruct, he would have been ridiculed as a dunce and held up as evidence of the inferiority of the entire race. Tad was bright; Elizabeth knew that well, and she was sure that with proper instruction and hard work, a glimmer of his father’s genius would show in him too. But Elizabeth knew many black boys Tad’s age who could read and write beautifully, and yet the myth of inferiority persisted. The unfairness of the assumptions stung. If a white child appeared dull, the entire race was deemed unintelligent. It seemed to Elizabeth that if one race should not judged by a single example, then neither should any other.” 3 likes
“She would almost prefer to fold her arms and sink into an eternal slumber, so that the great longing of her soul for peaceful rest would at last be gratified.” 1 likes
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