Tess Collins wanted out. Out of a life of servitude. She was tired of doing laundry, making beds and waiting on people. She was a seamstress, not a maid and she was ready to prove it! There was a huge ship sailing for New York and Tess was determined to be on it. Surely she could get a job on the ship and once in New York she would start a new life.
Unfortunately Tess was too late and there were no more jobs on the ship, but Tess would not accept defeat and fate was on her side when the famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon’s personal maid failed to show up. Tess was hired to accompany the Duff Gordon’s on the voyage. This was a dream come true. Yes, she was still just a maid, but she would be working with Lady Duff Gordon!
Madame Gordon as she insisted on being called was not an easy person to please but Tess would do anything to make this work. When she was not waiting on Madame, Tess was free to explore the Titanic and was amazed to see how the rich and famous lived. She loved the beautiful clothing and the delicate china. She even managed to attract the attention of Jack Bremerton, a wealthy Chicago business man as well as Jim Bonney, a young sailor, both whom would plan an important part in her future.
Unfortunately, on the fourth night of the voyage tragedy struck. The unimaginable had happened. The amazing ship had hit an iceberg and chaos erupted. Lady Duff Gordon, and her husband Cosmo escaped on life boat #1 with Tess’ sailor friend Jim Bonney, and Tess escaped on lifeboat #6 with Margaret Brown. And all of this happens in the first 50 pages of the book.
Once in New York, Tess was taken under Madame’s wing. Finally she could have everything she ever dreamed of, but at what cost? Why was Lady Duff Gordon’s lifeboat more than half empty and what part did Jim Bonney play in the decision to launch with so few people aboard? Why was Tess’s lifeboat the only one that even bothered to try to pick up the survivors?
The Dressmaker is a thoroughly entertaining story and is beautifully read by Susan Duerden. The book focuses on what happened after the sinking of the Titanic. According to the author’s notes, the testimonies were taken directly from the transcripts of the U.S. Senate hearings. Although Tess Collins was a fictional character many of the other characters were not. Lady Duff Gordon and her husband really did escape on a life boat with only 12 people on it, when it could have held up to 50 people. Margaret Brown (The Unsinkable Molly Brown), is considered a hero for insisting that her lifeboat return to pick up survivors. Although it was an easy read and could have gone into more detail, I still managed to learn quite a bit about the sinking of the Titanic and the hearings that followed which resulted in legislation requiring sufficient lifeboats on today’s ships. Of course, I may be one of the few that never saw the movie The Titanic!