My Mrs. Brown

A Novel

My Mrs. Brown

This “immensely enjoyable tale of empowerment” (Patrick Henry Bass, NY1) about a gentle Rhode Island woman who makes her first journey to New York City to buy an exquisitely tailored dress “gets to the essence of why style matters” (Kate Betts).

Early one September not long ago, a woman with a secret traveled to New York City in pursuit of a dream, to buy the most beautiful and correct dress she’d ever seen. But sometimes a dress isn’t just a dress…

Emilia Brown has spent a frugal, useful, and wholly restrained life in Ashville, Rhode Island. She is a genteel woman who has known her share of personal sorrows and quietly carried on, who makes a modest living cleaning and running errands, who delights in evening chats with her much younger neighbor, and who counts her blessings on a daily basis.

While helping to inventory the estate of the late grand dame of Ashville and her lifelong source of inspiration, Mrs. Brown comes upon a dress that changes everything. It’s a simple yet exquisitely tailored Oscar de la Renta sheath and jacket—a suit that Mrs. Brown realizes, with startling clarity, will say everything she has ever wished to convey about herself. As a means to an end as much as a thing of beauty, she must have it. And so, like the heroine in one of her favorite books Paul Gallico’s 1958 classic Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, her odyssey to purchase the dress in New York City begins. For not only is owning the Oscar de la Renta a must, the intimidating trip to purchase it on Madison Avenue is essential as well. If the dress is to give Mrs. Brown a voice, then she must prepare by making the daunting journey—both to the emerald city and within herself.

Timeless, poignant, and appealing, My Mrs. Brown is “a contemporary fairy tale…a gentle rebuke to today’s hyped-up fashion culture” (The New York Times).
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501108617 | 
  • April 2017
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for My Mrs. Brown includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author William Norwich. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


“Hasn’t every woman fallen in love with a dress?”

Emilia Brown is a hardworking widow who makes a modest living cleaning at Bonnie’s Beauty Salon in Ashville, Rhode Island. Quiet by nature, she has known her share of sorrows and persevered. When she offers to assist with the inventory of the estate of a local grande dame, Mrs. Brown discovers a dress that changes her life forever. It isn’t some frothy confection but rather a simple yet exquisitely tailored Oscar de la Renta black sheath and jacket. From the moment Mrs. Brown sees the dress, she is possessed by the desire to purchase one for herself.

Thus begins Mrs. Brown’s challenge to save enough money to be able to travel to New York City and buy the dress. She is helped by two wonderful women: Alice, her twenty-three-year-old next-door neighbor, and Rachel, the public relations executive who befriends her in New York. As Mrs. Brown navigates the path to her dress, the motivation for her quest unfolds, and the dignity and devotio see more

About the Author

William Norwich
Photograph by Douglas Friedman

William Norwich

William Norwich is a writer, editor, and video and television reporter. He is the author of the novels My Mrs. Brown and Learning to Drive as well as the children’s book Molly and the Magic Dress. Norwich also has written introductions and essays for many pictorial books. Currently the editor for fashion and interior design at Phaidon Press, he has also written and edited for The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Town & Country, Architectural Digest, and New York magazine. Norwich is a graduate of the writing program at Columbia University (MFA), Hampshire College (BA), and the Pomfret School. He lives in New York City.