The full title of this book, The Gown, A Novel of the Royal Wedding, by Jennifer Robson, includes a dressmaker’s view of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding, including the duties in the bride’s and bridesmaids’ dressing rooms and viewing the wedding itself. This book is primarily about common people, dressmakers and embroiders, who sewed Princess Elizabeth’s gown in postwar London, Miss Duley, the kind but indomitable supervisor of the embroidery workrooms and Mr. Hartnell, the factory owner and designer. There is an additional modern storyline in which a young woman receives mysterious dressmaker samples as part of her grandmother’s estate.
The writer made a point of describing Princess Elizabeth as very polite and considerate, beginning to be aware of the hardships of the common people. The scenery of a 1947 ladies designer gown factory is quite refreshing–although post-war life was hard, with no coupons to replace worn-out shoes and not enough food, the factory was not a sweatshop, and the supervisors mixed kindness with their strictness towards the young girls who worked there.
This book touched on the family relationships of ordinary people at the time of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Phillip: The dressmaker Ann’s mother’s harsh words leading to her thinking she would never be good enough, Ann’s missing her brother who had died in the Blitz, and Anne’s closeness to her sister-in-law, Milly. Ann’s friendship with Miriam, a refugee Jewish embroiderer from Paris, showed a progression of acceptance and welcome amid hardship. And in every family there are secrets…in the modern storyline, Heather leaves Toronto to find out why her grandmother gave her embroidered samples…, but I don’t want to spoil the story!
Of course bad things happened, and I wondered, if Ann’s mother had been kinder, would she have been more resilient? Was Ann such a wonderful mother to Sarah and grandmother to Heather because of her friendships with Milly and Miriam? Did the kindness and humility of Princess Elizabeth make a difference to the “common” dressmakers who she treated respectfully, quite unlike the “common” wealthy women who treated them badly?
Miriam’s story is intense, but she is a survivor. She manages not to be bitter, and that, without spoiling the story, is another triumph.
I became interested in this story because I heard there was much detail of sewing and design. It did not disappoint. I am sure I will want to read this book a second time, probably soon, but for now, I’m ready to go sew!