Ellen Gowan is the only surviving child of a scholarly village minister and a charming girl disowned by her family when she married for love. Growing up in rural Norfolk, Ellen’s childhood was poor but blessed with affection. Resilience, spirit, and one great talent will carry her far from such humble beginnings. In time, she will become the witty, celebrated, and very beautiful Madame Ellen, dressmaker to the nobility of England, the Great Six Hundred.
Yet Ellen has secrets. At fifteen she falls for Raoul de Valentin, the dangerous descendant of French aristocrats. Raoul marries Ellen for her brilliance as a designer but abandons his wife when she becomes pregnant. Determined that she and her daughter will survive, Ellen begins her long climb to success. Toiling first in a clothing sweat shop, she later opens her own salon in fashionable Berkeley Square though she tells the world – and her daughter - she’s a widow. One single dress, a ballgown created for the enigmatic Countess of Hawksmoor, the leader of London society, transforms Ellen’s fortunes, and as the years pass, business thrives. But then Raoul de Valentin returns and threatens to destroy all that Ellen has achieved.
In The Dressmaker, the romance of Jane Austen, the social commentary of Charles Dickens and the very contemporary voice of Posie Graeme-Evans combine to plunge the reader deep into the opulent, sinister world of teeming Victorian England. And if the beautiful Madame Ellen is not quite what she seems, the strength of her will sees her through to the truth, and love, at last.
Read an Excerpt
IT WAS the season of Advent and the night was blade sharp. Ground-glass white was the frost, and the eyes and noses of London were bright with cold.
It had become late. The market streets of that great metropolis, that city of cities, were emptying as lanterns and lights were staunched without and within the shops and houses. Drays and carts and private carriages rattled away, the harsh crash and grind of iron on stone, and as their noise departed, so too did the wash of human voices. London, heaving with trade and plenty and paucity, would settle soon into the freezing, star-strewn dark and sleep without... see more
Reading Group Guide
Ellen Gowan’s childhood in the wilds of Norfolk is a happy one. Ellen’s parents are deeply in love, and their quiet family life is rich with affection and respect yet poor in worldly goods. But a tragic accident on Ellen’s thirteenth birthday changes the course of her childhood forever, and Ellen must find courage and strength of will beyond her years to face the hardships that follow. But undeniable artistic talent, wit, and an indomitable spirit carry her from Norfolk to London, and in time she is transformed into Madame Ellen: dressmaker to the nobility of England, the Great Six Hundred.
Beautiful Madame Ellen is burdened by the secrets she has been forced to keep along her journey, ones that could destroy the success and happiness she has fought so hard to create. She will need all that she has—will, strength, talent, and passion—to find and hold a place for herself in an unforgiving era in which women’s involvement in the world of business is a rarity.
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