Synopsis: 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.
My Review: This book was everything I hoped it would be – a lovely historical tale, beautiful descriptive language, and a perfect fashion scene in Victorian England. I love fashion in all its forms, so I knew this one was a must read the moment I heard about it.
We get to see Madame Ellen from a relatively young age, and watch her grow up, slowly becoming the woman she was meant to be. All the while, I honestly kept thinking, “Surely it cannot get worse for her?” and then the carpet would be ripped out from under all of us.
I can’t review this book without talking about the dresses, it is the key to Ellen’s success, after all. And all I can say is wow. I loved the descriptions of the fabric and designs, so much that I could almost reach into the book and feel them, even try them on! How lovely it would be to have that kind of talent!
Ellen is such a sympathetic character, I was pulled into her world pretty much from the start. There were numerous times throughout the book that I could feel her sorrow, and had tears streaming down my face. Let me tell you – not a pretty picture when you’re reading in a coffee shop…the other patrons must have thought I was mad!
This was also a pretty quick read, despite the 450+ pages in it, but it didn’t feel like something I wasn’t absorbing. More like the story moved with such a great flow that I wanted to continue reading it, setting things aside, just so that I could continue with the journey through Ellen’s life. I kept hoping that she would finally find peace and happiness without further struggles – and I’m sure you’ll do the same.
Read this book if: This is a great one for fans of historical fiction, or for someone who is at all interested in reading about fashion. A great Victorian piece!
My Rating: 3.5/5 – Two thumbs up, fine holiday fun!
Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher, Atria Paperback. This has not affected my review in any way. I was likewise not compensated for this review.