Jennifer Robson comes to the blog with an historic fiction, all surrounding the women who toiled on the wedding gown for the Princess Elizabeth.
Told in three perspectives, the past in 1947 London and the present that starts in 2016 Toronto, the story is narrated by three characters. Ann, Miriam and Heather, and the interconnection of the three is truly magical. Ann is a working-class girl who, at the age of 14, was apprenticed to the embroidery rooms of Norman Hartnell, couturier to Queen Mary and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, as well as a legion of society women. Miriam, a French Jew has arrived in London with some samples, two references and a list of houses that may be able to provide her work as an embroiderer. Miriam survived the occupation and a camp, only to find herself unable to stay in Paris, alone and without family – so to London she goes.
A bold decision on Miriam’s part puts her in front of Mr. Hartnell, and whisked off to the embroidery rooms, where she meets Ann and the others. With a friendly atmosphere, the two start to get to know one another, and a last-moment situation has Ann offering Miriam a room to rent, while the two are little more than friendly strangers, they have the work in common, and soon their trust builds. While Ann’s introduction to a toff that Miriam finds “oily” can only lead to trouble, Miriam’s introduction to a magazine owner / editor / journalist only can lead to good things for her. But this is about the embroidery – the goodwill and wishes for the young bride’s happiness, and the frenzy about the design – kept secret and hidden from the press, even the women working on the dress weren’t allowed to share the information. Yet aside from the monumental event and the dress itself, ‘sample’ pieces of embellishment were created, only to be unearthed by Ann’s granddaughter Heather some 80 years later.
It is Heather’s quest to know her Nan, someone who never mentioned England or why she left, never mentioned being involved with the gown, or even being in Westminster on the day, shared little to nothing about sewing or embroidery, but owned and ran a knitting / wool shop until she retired. What Robson has done here is told 2 women’s stories about life after the war, their worries, struggles, concerns and their unwavering dedication to the work they performed, even when they couldn’t share a bit of info. With painstaking research and some glimpses into the massive numbers of hands required to create such a masterpiece, what never gets lost is the heart. The heart of a woman who was so determined to make a new life that nothing from her past was shared, another whose entire life and sense of self were threatened and endangered by a hateful regime, yet who never forgot the first friend she made or her promises to that friend, and the heart of a granddaughter, seeking answers to questions that she couldn’t have asked of her grandmother, uncovering secrets long held, and doing so in a way that the story unfolds and shares a single year in 1947, with all the ties to the present.
I’ve always heard (from grandparents) the story of the Princess Elizabeth’s wedding and the boost that it gave the struggling citizens of England – with rationing, shortages and survival being little to celebrate. And Robson managed to bring the story to us in ways that made it feel personal and something that you would want to invest your time and emotion. Each moment of triumph is celebrated, the relief when the gown is complete, and the retelling of the wedding day itself, from those invited as a thank you to those working behind the scenes. Oh sure, it’s only a bit of history with a wedding gown as the focal point, but soon you forget the ‘dress’ and immerse yourself in the lives of those who worked (or work) behind the scenes to create beauty that is tactile, functional and even memorable.
Title: The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding
Author: Jennifer Robson
Genre: British, Historic Elements, Historical Fiction, Post World War II, Setting: Britain
Published by: William Morrow
Published on: 31 December, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 11 Hours: 38 minutes
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦ Google ♦Audible
From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.
“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding
London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.
Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?
With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.