Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"The Lacemaker and the Princess" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This book caught my eye at my son's Scholastic Book Fair and I just had to buy it. As if my stack of books to read were not already tall enough. But it looked like an interesting story, it was only $7, and I figured if I didn't care for it I could swap it when I was through.

This is a YA novel of historical fiction set during the French Revolution; the titular princess is Thérèse, the daughter of Marie Antoinette. I picked it up expecting a fun, fast read, and was not disappointed. It served well as a palate-cleanser after Tomcat in Love, and it went by like a breeze.

Throughout the scene where the mob of hungry women stormed into the grounds of the palace at Versailles demanding bread, I had braced myself to hear Marie Antoinette petulantly suggest that they eat cake instead, even though from what I have gathered that would not be historically accurate. So I was quite pleased to find that the author resisted that temptation, never allowing Antoinette to appear as callous and ignorant as she would have to have been in order to speak so thoughtlessly. In fact, Antoinette was never portrayed as anything other than beautiful, gracious, kind-hearted and generous; it just was not enough to please a starving populace.

Although Marie Antoinette may never have said, "Let them eat cake," the book still managed to clearly convey that the royal family was in large part clueless regarding the daily trials their people suffered merely in order to subsist. The royal family in general, and Marie Antoinette in particular, did their best to aid their people whenever they saw a need; however, so comfortably ensconced in their bejeweled palace, they remained oblivious to the amount and degree of need. They had a distinct separation from and ignorance or denial of the poverty that surrounded them. Just one example of how far removed the royal family was from reality is seen in the way Antoinette thought she was raising her daughter like any other child, without the burden of being treated like a princess, while the life of Thérèse was absolutely nothing like that of a common child. The "not a princess" concept was true only in theory, not in practice.

This is a good (if not especially in-depth) review of the history of the French Revolution, with great descriptions of life in 18th century Versailles (both in and out of the palace), and an enjoyable read. I was especially impressed that the author successfully managed to present both sides of the revolution in a balanced manner that keeps the reader from deciding that one side was right and the other side was evil.

I'll probably pass it on to my book-loving daughter and see what she thinks.

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