Tess Collins was born to be something greater than a servant and she knew it. On a fateful day in April, 1912, Tess walks out of the employ of a wealthy woman and into an uncertain future. But Tess is determined to make something of herself, she knows her worth and knows she is an excellent seamstress.
Tess makes her way to the docks, where she has heard the famous Titanic is hiring companions and servants for the voyage. It is there that Tess meets Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, a famous designer. In a moment of chance, Tess is hired by Lucile to act as her servant for the trip.
During the trip, Tess tentatively bonds with Lucile, who promises to hire her in her shop upon arriving in New York. Tess also makes the acquaintance of Jack Bremerton, a wealthy Chicago businessman and Jim Bonney a sailor with bigger dreams in his future.
Tess survives the disaster along with the Duff Gordons – although they were not on the same lifeboat. After being rescued, the survivors are taken to New York where an inquiry into the sinking is being led by a U.S. Senator . Amid rumors of scandalous behavior by the Duff Gordons, Tess must choose between friendship and loyalty, truth and deception in the quest to find out what really happened on Lifeboat One on that fateful night.
The central theme in The Dressmaker is choices. We’ve all read or watched something about the tragedy of the Titanic; we know the story, the horror. But how much do we know about what came after of the guilt and the condemnation? Of the survivors trying to move on, to deal with what happened, to grieve for those lost at sea. It’s easy to sit in the comfort of our warm homes and debate the choices made that fateful night, to vilify and cast judgment, but we can never truly know the horrors seen and heard that night. Would we be a hero or a coward if put in the position of so many that night. We do know from history that only one boat went back – One Boat, after the cries of the drowning and freezing began to subside. It is enough to bring you to tears.
While the novel is fiction, the events surrounding it are historical. There was a Lady and Cosmo Gordon who survived in a lifeboat with ten other people, they did oppose going back for survivors and they did bribe seamen. In reality, they were not the only ones.
I think there is something about the name Tess in literature, it denotes a strong woman, a woman willingly to defy conventions in a time when it is not fashionable to do so. Tess Collins knew what she was worth and she wasn’t willing to compromise her values to get her where she wanted to be. She’s willing to prove herself, to make sacrifices.
There wasn’t much I didn’t find appealing in the book, it was a fast read, well researched and deeply moving. What I loved best was the idea of choices, to look at the sinking of the Titanic from a different perspective and to see your own life through Tess’. If given the choice, do you stand up for what you believe no matter what the personal cost, or do you turn your back to those you love?
The Dressmaker is a powerful story that will leave you thinking long after you have finished reading it. Not only does it put the Titanic into a new perspective but friendship and love as well. Put this book on your to be read lists, it’s well worth it.