The Lacemaker and the Princess
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2007, 1-4169-1920-1
Isabelle is the daughter and granddaughter of lacemakers. She lives in the town of Versailles, not far from the grand palace where the King of France and his court live, and as they hunt and play and eat their lavish meals, she and her mother and grandmother struggle to survive, sewing with sore fingers and aching backs and empty stomachs.
Then one day Isabelle is sent to the palace to deliver some lace and on this day she meets none other than the queen of France herself, the lovely Marie Antoinette. The Queen rescues Isabelle when the eleven year old girl is almost trampled by a crowd of courtiers and the queen is so taken by the child that she invites Isabelle to stay and play with her daughter the Princess Royal.
At first the Princess, Therese, is somewhat aloof but she soon becomes friendlier and grows so fond of Isabelle that she asks the young lacemaker to come back to the palace to play on a regular basis. In fact Isabelle becomes one of Therese’s two constant companions and she even is given a new name, Clochette, which is what the people at court call her. Isabelle cannot help liking her new life, a life that promises her a future and where she is someone of importance.
But, as the months pass by Isabelle begins to see that all is not well in France. Her brother George shows her that while the courtiers play and dance, the people of France are starving and they are getting more and more angry and frustrated. He shows her that the situation in the country is unfair and even though Isabelle loves the queen and Therese, she cannot help feeling that perhaps George is right and perhaps the time has come for change. Of course no one is prepared for what ends up happening. No is prepared for the violence and the horror which tears France apart and which destroys Therese’s world forever.
Set in the months leading up to the French Revolution, this touching and often painful story shows all too clearly how enormous the gulf was between the classes in France at this time. Therese is completely convinced that her father is king by “divine right” and that the lower classes have to accept what happens to them without complaint. She cannot comprehend what it means to be poor even though her two best friends come from very poor families. It never occurs to her to try to help these families and it never occurs to her to try to understand what is happening to France. Isabelle’s struggles because she cannot deny what she sees with her own eyes and yet at the same time she loves Therese and does not want to be disloyal to her.
Based on the true story of Therese’s friendship with a commoner’s daughter, this wonderfully written and thought-provoking book shows all too clearly how it is that the Royal family understood so little about the problems of the country that they were supposed to be taking care of.
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