Monday, September 13, 2010

Musings: The Lacemaker & the Princess

The Lacemaker and the Princess is a young adult book set on the cusp of and during the French Revolution.  Isabella is 11 years old and works as a lacemaker in the town of Versailles.  One day, her grandmother sends her to the palace to deliver lace to a customer.  Isabelle takes the opportunity to wander around the palace and manages to catch the attention of Marie Antoinette, who promptly takes Isabelle to befriend her young daughter, Therese.  Therese and Isabelle become friends, spending their days together along with another young girl, Ernestine.  But Isabelle hears about stirring discontent from her older brother, George, and life at the palace becomes increasingly tense as the French people begin to rebel against the King.
I chose this book to read just before leaving on my trip to Washington because it is a slim volume and I knew I'd be able to finish it quickly.  Little did I know it would hold my interest as well as it did!  I find the entire period of the French Revolution absolutely fascinating.  It was such a horrible, terrifying period and changed the world order so much.  And while it's easy to vilify one side or the other, the more you read about it, the more you get the dismal sense that it was all just a supreme waste of life.  And that regardless of who has power, it leads to corruption.
This was a great book to read after the Antonin Careme biography Cooking for Kings because it is set in the same period but touches upon a completely different situation.  For such a short book, it really covers a lot of material; for example, the author points out that while many accused Marie Antoinette of wasting money on luxuries, she was actually working within an old and established system of entitlement in which anything she did not use went to a courtier who could sell it to supplement her income.  But at the same time, she acknowledges that King Louis XVI was very ineffective and indecisive and that worked very much against him.  I really appreciated that Kimberly Bradley was sympathetic to both sides of the conflict.  Through Isabelle's eyes, we see the squander and blindness of the French court contrasted with the starving and angry populace.  But we also see the King and Queen as parents grieving a lost son and feeling lonely and isolated in long days full of ritual and pandering courtiers.
I also really liked the way Bradley showed that, with the fall of the Old Regime, many people's lives changed dramatically- not just the aristocracy's.  For example, Isabelle and her mother work as lacemakers; when the nobility flees France, they are unable to make a living any more and must take work in a tavern.
While this is a short and quick book, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and it has once again stimulated my interest in reading more about the French Revolution.  (Note:  If you find the revolution interesting but haven't yet read Hilary Mantel's massive A Place of Greater Safety, then you should!)  First on my list is Christopher Hibbert's The Days of the French Revolution.  I also have Schama's Citizens on my shelf but that is too intimidating for me to pick up quite yet!


  1. Nice review.
    I always find books about the revolution so depressing, all those crazy people going around and putting nobles to death

  2. "I also really liked the way Bradley showed that, with the fall of the Old Regime, many people's lives changed dramatically- not just the aristocracy's."

    That would be really interesting to read about, since most books focus on this period focus on the nobility, even in fiction. Thank you so much for pointing me towards this book, because it sounds lovely and I had never heard of it before.

  3. Anonymous9/13/2010

    I'll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts on some French Revolution nonfiction. I'm interested in the French Revolution, but the majority of my knowledge of it comes from reading the Scarlet Pimpernel books when I was in elementary school. :p

  4. I have only read a little bit about the French Revolution, but what I did read was fascinating to me. I remember seeing a little bit about this book when it came out, and wanting to read it despite the fact that I read little to no YA. I am really thrilled to hear that it's such a good book, so I will be taking your recommendation and running with it! If you are interested in reading more fiction set in this time period, I believe that Catherine Delors has a new book out that covers some of it.

  5. Anonymous9/13/2010

    I don't know much about the French Revolution and have been looking for some good historical fiction that deals with it - this seems like a great place to start! Thanks for the great review!

  6. Sounds like a good introduction to the French Revolution. Not a subject I know much about.

  7. This sounds like an interesting book. I will have to keep it in mind! Great review!

  8. I've never heard of this book so I was thrilled to read your review. (Plus, the cover is so lovely). I'm mad for all things French Revolution -- I highly recommend Catherine Delors' 'For the King' -- it was fascinating!

  9. Anonymous10/13/2010

    I went and read this book and it was fantastic! Thanks for recommending it!


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