Ellen Gowan grew up poor, but was blessed with a lot of affection in her young life. What shows up early and takes her far from the minister's cottage where she spent the first part of her life are her resiliency, spirit, and a talent that she turns into a success.
Before her journey to the success she attains starts, she falls for the son, Raoul de Valentin, of a dress maker that plants the idea of what Ellen will turn to. Raoul sees Ellen's knack for designing, marries her for it, and abandons her when she becomes pregnant.
Not one to bemoan fate, Ellen begins her climb to success - first at a clothing sweatshop as a drawer then by opening a salon in Berkeley Square. Fate smiles on her when the Countess of Hawksmoor, a trendsetter amongst London's society, asks Ellen to design her dress.
Along the way, she has help from family members that help her move up at a steady pace. As the years pass by and Ellen's business steadily thrives, Raoul returns and poses a threat to all that Ellen has achieved in her life.
I must say that I really enjoyed the book. Ms. Graeme-Evans has a talent for making both the time period and the characters come alive. Ellen has a willowy strength in that she has a steely determination, yet knows when to bend. She knows what needs to be done, is willing to sacrifice for it, and all that has happened before - the good and the bad - shapes her into the kind of woman that is perfectly balanced between who she is and what she can become.
Ellen's cousin Oriana is another stand-out character in that she has a strength of will that comes out when she really needs it - even though it be in opposition to a very overbearing father. Because of her father, Oriana also treasures what she has with both Connor and Ellen. Oriana's vulnerability lies within her health and how it affects her family life, but even there she does not let it keep her down.
While Raoul could be easy to hate for what he does to Ellen, he isn't entirely despicable. He simply is who he is - a bit weak, wanting to take the easy way to the finer things in life, and also shaped by his circumstances. It is simply that what Ellen and Raoul do with the circumstances that shape them is "two paths diverging": Ellen works hard to achieve success and Raoul attempts to have success without having to work as hard.
Very enjoyable read and I look forward to reading Ms. Graeme-Evans other books.
From international bestselling author Posie Graeme-Evans comes the passionate tale of a woman ahead of her time.
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.