Published by Pan
Available in ebook and paperback (21 February 2019)
Source: Copy for review provided by publisher
About the Book
The Dressmaker of Draper’s Lane revisits the opulence and extravagance of the London silk trade in the mid-eighteenth century which Liz Trenow wrote about in her previous bestselling novel, The Silk Weaver.
As a foundling who rose from poverty and now runs her own successful dressmaking business in the heart of society London, Miss Charlotte is a remarkable woman, admired by many. She has no need, nor desire, to marry. The people she values most are her friend Anna, her recently-found sister Louisa and nephew Peter.
She feels herself fortunate, and should be content with what she has. But something is missing.
A small piece of rare silk discovered in a bundle of scraps at auction triggers a curious sense of familiarity, and prompts her to unpick a past filled with extraordinary secrets and revelations…..
Charlotte Amesbury had a very poor start in life. She was left by her poverty stricken mother at the Foundling Hospital in London and by determination and some good fortune, has been able to make her own way as a costumière with her own business near the City of London.
The art of the seamstresses’ and the beauty of the materials they work with are superbly described. Charlotte has made a name for herself with the well to do ladies of London who recommend her to their friends and business is good. However, there is one area of Charlotte’s life that causes her sadness. She would love to know about her mother and upon sheer chance, she happens to come across a small scrap of silk which leads her to make connections beyond which she would not have thought possible – however the discovery is also the cause of much sadness and discord. I had my suspicions as to why one character was so against Charlotte trying to find out more about her background.
Although I knew about the term ‘foundling’ it was particularly interesting here to read about the way the hospital selected which babies to accept and the tokens that the mothers left with their child, as a way of identification, in case they were ever in a position to reclaim them at a later date.
Charlotte was an extremely engaging character; for all of her confidence and business acumen, she had suffered personal heartbreak and her success had come at a price. Her best friend Anna, who together with her husband, owned a silk weaving business brought some light hearted fun into her life. Sadly the same couldn’t be said for Ambrose, her sister Louisa’s husband. For a minister of the cloth, he certainly didn’t practice what he preached.
For a single woman in the 18th century, Charlotte is very unusual. She has an independent spirit, manages her seamstresses with great tact and skill and is prepared to stand her ground with the toughest of business men. I think for me, this is why I kept being pulled out of the era. Although generally, there is an excellent sense of place, it was Charlotte herself who seemed to be of a modern age and it was only when I encountered a reference to travelling in a gig, or to some other Georgian reference that I remembered that I was actually in the 18th century and not in the 21st. This is not a criticism of the book, but just a personal reaction.
It is not a fast paced story but The Dressmaker of Drapers Lane is a very well written historical tale and the level of research which must have been necessary comes through clearly, also the author’s family has had a silk business since the 1700s so no doubt this personal knowledge was invaluable. The detailed clothing descriptions and way of life, the fear of catching the dreaded typhus and the limited medical treatment of those times (compared to what we know today), the difficulties of communication and travel – all these aspects are so well done. In amongst the fictional characters are ‘real life’ historical people including artist William Hogarth, one of the benefactors and governors of the Foundling Hospital and his wife Jane, who is a great friend to Charlotte.
The book features some of the characters, including Charlotte and Anna, from a previous book, The Silk Weaver, but it’s not necessary to have read that one to enjoy this as it works perfectly well on its own.
I enjoyed getting to know Charlotte and fans of historical fiction and anyone with an interest in the subject will find much to enjoy with this story.
About the Author
Liz Trenow’s latest novel is In Love and War, also known in the US as The Lost Soldiers. Her previous novels are The Last Telegram, The Silk Weaver (The Hidden Thread in the US), The Forgotten Seamstress and The Poppy Factory, which will be published in the US as All the Things We Lost on 10th January 2019. She has been published all over the world and in nine foreign languages. The Last Telegram was shortlisted for a UK national award and The Forgotten Seamstress was a New York Times best-seller.
The Lost Soldiers marks the anniversary of the end of World War One with a story about the thousand of bereaved families who within months of the Armistice made the difficult journey to the devastated battlefields of the Flanders and The Somme in search of their loved ones who were ‘missing, presumed dead’. The book is told from the perspectives of three women who undertook this pilgrimage, each of them from different countries and backgrounds All three bear their own burdens of sorrow and guilt, and their searches seem almost impossibly daunting. While initially regarding each other with suspicion what they eventually discover, together, is greater than any of them could have imagined.
Liz is a former journalist who spent fifteen years on regional and national newspapers, and on BBC radio and television news, before turning her hand to fiction. She lives in East Anglia, UK, with her artist husband, and they have two grown up daughters.
Please go to www.liztrenow.com, follow her on Facebook or join her on Twitter @liztrenow