Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"The Dressmaker"

Everyone knows the story of the sinking of the Titanic, 100 years ago this week. What I didn't fully grasp was the shocking, scandalous aftermath. The blame game, and recriminations started even before the survivors made it to shore.

In "The Dressmaker", by Kate Alcott, some of the characters are real and others are incorporated to add interest to an already compelling story.

A central character is one, Lady Lucille Duf Gordon. Her mannerisms, attitudes and actions could make one believe she was a fictional character. As it turns out, she was notorious before boarding the Titanic and even more so after surviving it's sinking.

Lady Lucy was a famous designer of women's clothing, funded in large part by her second, aristocratic husband, Lord Duf Gordon. Tess, a created character, manages to get herself hired as a maid to serve Lady Lucy during the crossing. Only later does she reveal her real aspirations: to become a fashion designer to rival Lady Lucy.

Love interests develop between Tess and a wealthy Chicago businessman AND a crew member who later implicates the Duf Gordons of disgraceful behavior in what would be dubbed "the millionaire's lifeboat".

Class distinctions and name recognition saved the lives of many of the wealthiest passengers at the expense of the poorer passengers in steerage. Add that to the fact that there were not enough lifeboats and the newly hired crew members had no training or plan for evacuating the ship and disaster was inevitable.

It is sometimes hard to discern fact from fiction, but considering how botched-up the Titanic's maiden voyage was, anything could be true. The documented actions of particular passengers, such as Margaret (Unsinkable Molly) Brown are fascinating and enrich the story. Also, the self-aggrandizing efforts on the part of U.S. government types to put blame for the sinking where it belonged reads like current events.

"The Dressmaker" helped to fill-in the gaps in my knowledge of that momentous event. Ms. Alcott writes a good story that is enhanced by carefully researched facts from an actual event.

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