I like historical fiction. I’m fascinated by the French Revolution. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The Lacemaker and the Princess is an excellent fictional introduction to the inequities that gave rise to the Revolution and fueled its violence.
Isabelle is an eleven year old lacemaker in the town of Versailles, just like her mother and her grandmother and her grandmother’s mother before her. One day she is saved from being trampled by a crowd of courtiers by none other than Marie Antionette herself, and Isabelle becomes Clochette, playmate to Madame Royale, the princess Therese. (Clochette, according to the princess, is a much more fashionable name than Isabelle, so Clochette she is.) Isabelle travels between her lower class tradesman’s home and the palace of Versailles, and the contrast between the two becomes more and more disturbing and confusing. The more Isabelle tries to justify to herself and to her brother George the luxuries of the palace, the more she realizes that things are not as they should be. The king is oblivious and indecisive. The queen is obsessed with play-acting and insensitive to the suffering of the common people. Therese lives an ignorant and sheltered life within the walls of the royal palace. Only Isabelle is able to bridge the gap and see both the court and the city as the talk of revolution becomes louder and more impossible to ignore.
This story was inspired by a real girl who was the daughter of a chambermaid and a bailiff, brought up to be the companion of Marie-Therese, the eldest daughter of Louis VII and Marie Antionette. And Ms. Brubaker doesn’t “chicken out”; the story continues all the way through the arrest and imprisonment of the royal family and a note at the end tells what happened to each of the historical figures in the story.
Good story. Any children who like to read about kings and queens, and historical tragedies, and how people lived long ago will enjoy this particular story of tragic king who couldn’t make up his mind, a tragic queen who didn’t understand the time and place she lived in, and a princess who was trapped in the family and the role to which she was born.