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Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  25,491 ratings  ·  3,562 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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Average rating 3.49  · 
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 ·  25,491 ratings  ·  3,562 reviews

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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
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019-reads, book-club
I read this back in October for book club and while I appreciate learning about Elizabeth Keckley and her amazing accomplishments after buying her freedom from slavery, it wasn't enough save the book. The writing style and the insertion of very long passages of the Civil War battles that read like a history textbook made it a slog.

The character of Ms Keckley was written as saintly, with no nuances to her character. I would have liked to have read about the prejudices she endured, yet, based on t
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. ...more
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
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
Jul 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Well researched and it shows in the novel. Unfortunately it was drier reading than Keckley's actual autobiography. 2.5 stars rounded up ...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
Nov 23, 2013 rated it liked it
This is my first book by this author and right away she reminded me of Michelle Moran's first book I've read, Madame Tussaud, which was an engrossing read from the first page. But I'm sorry to say that this book didn't continue to be an interesting read, rather dry for most of the part.

It is a story of an African American woman, who buys her freedom before the Civil War with the money she earns making her first needle creations. She makes her good reputation in D.C. as a dressmaker and becomes M
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.
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.

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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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
May 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of those times when I really cursed myself for being a finisher, or at least a finisher unless the writing and/or story are so egregiously bad that even I can't continue. Especially when Goodreads tells me I've read this book before . . . surely some mistake? Because I have absolutely no recollection. It was hanging around on my Kindle as an ARC I picked up some years ago and I felt like a Civil War read.

Anyhow. The writing was clearly NOT bad enough to make me give up; in fact the
Deb  Darling
Jan 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I love historical fiction, and love Lincoln, so it was no surprise I loved this book. I didn't know much about Mary Todd Lincoln except that she had a reputation for being difficult and odd. Really enjoyed learning more about her, and was so impressed by the protagonist, Elizabeth. This is based on a true story which makes it even better. ...more
Author Annabelle Leigha
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was such a wonderful book. I felt like I was reading Elizabeth's diary! ...more
Sarah Lyall
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Where do I even begin? I really liked this book a lot, in fact, I rated it a 5 initially. But, upon reading reviews from others my eyes were opened to the fact that this book has a lot (A LOT) of plagiarized parts. In fairness, this book is historical fiction, which calls for the use of primary sources. What Chiaverini fails to do is to fully acknowledge that this book is essentially a retelling of Elizabeth Keckly's memoirs. I actually pulled the Google file of EK's memoirs after reading some r ...more
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Fabiblio: Hard-to-Love Characters 2 3 Apr 04, 2020 12:28PM  
Fabiblio: The Mantua 1 1 Mar 19, 2020 07:14AM  
Fabiblio: Sewing Trivia 2 2 Mar 10, 2020 07:49AM  
Fabiblio: Loyalty and friendship 2 4 Mar 05, 2020 01:45PM  
Play Book Tag: Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker / Jennifer Chiaverini - 3*** 1 12 Jan 23, 2017 12:01PM  

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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

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“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.” 2 likes
“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.” 2 likes
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