Cleverly entitled The Gown, this historical novel published by William Morrow Paperbacks in 2018, will almost certainly appeal to fans of the television series The Crown, or anyone interested in the making of one of the most famous wedding gowns of the 20th century – that of Queen Elizabeth II.
But the focus isn’t so much on the royal family as on the company of women who made and painstakingly embroidered the wedding gown in a fairly short period of time, with an emphasis on just two of those workers – two women who embroidered Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress.
We’re given an insight into the working days for these women within the famed fashion house of leading British fashion designer, Norman Hartnell, in Mayfair, London – a favoured designer of the royal family. Their train journeys, breaks, rationing and rare outings simply help embellish the tale.
Jennifer takes us inside those workrooms, with wonderful imagery of the huge frames required to accommodate both the dress pieces and 15′ wedding train of the future Queen’s wedding dress as well as some of the rules about make-up and cleanliness – all so important on such a large commission.
And these insights come directly from a chance meeting and interview with Betty Foster, née Pearce, who was one four seamstresses who actually worked on the now-famous wedding gown.
The book is deeply moving with moments of great sadness and anticipation in equal measure. The threads of the characters’ lives are woven and interlaced with the Holocaust, with single parenthood but also with an underlying bond of great friendship and support when in need. It’s a story of survival.
The book is available on Kindle, has 29 Chapters, an Epilogue, a brief overview of the interview with Betty Foster, a recipe – you have to read the book to understand, a Reading Group guide as well as suggestions for Further Reading.
All in all, this was a really good read – one that has made me want to investigate Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress even further.
An academic by background, a former editor by profession, Jennifer Robson has a passion for history and writes full-time. She’s the author of six novels, among them Somewhere in France, Our Darkest Night, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris.