Book Review: The Dressmaker

Why did only one lifeboat make an attempt to save those dying on the water?

This question sparked Kate Alcott’s interest and the result is The Dressmaker, a riveting novel which peers into the lives of those who survived the sinking of the Titanic.

The story is mainly about Tess Collins, a wannabe dressmaker who was forced by circumstances to become a housemaid. Deciding she could no longer tolerate the conditions of her life, she packed her bags and headed for the dock where the Titanic was set to sail for its maiden and only voyage. She talks her way into going on the boat as a maid for the famous dress designer, Lady Lucille Duff Gordon. Four days later, Tess finds herself in a lifeboat with the unsinkable “Molly Brown.”

Thanks to James Cameron, we are all familiar with the Titanic story. But this book provides insight into what happened when less than eight hundred survivors arrived in New York City. Alcott addresses the aftermath of this tragedy by using documentation of real testimony, skillfully recreating the senatorial hearings and the public outcry that followed many of the revelations. I could actually imagine myself in the room as Lady Duff Gordon and the seamen tried to justify ordering a lifeboat to leave with fifty seats empty. And I could empathize with another survivor as she revealed the details of her husband’s suicide.

I was left wondering how I would act in a similar situation. Would I be courageous and try to help those drowning in the water? Would I welcome extra people into my lifeboat, all the while wondering if it would sink? Or would I let someone else make the decision to sail safely away?

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