I had not considered the role of dolls in the 18th century until I received a very welcomed heads up from author Christine Trent who has done her own extensive research on the fascinating subject. I found her new book, The Queen's Dollmaker, an absolutely delightful read, both due to the plot and all the great information packed between the covers. From start to finish you will get a glimpse of both the domestic and business cultures of the 18th century. The book covers the intriguing process of doll-making and follows the main character, Claudette Laurent, as she chooses 'survival' in a very rough world.
My first introduction to Claudette left mixed feelings. I found her easy to relate too, but before getting to know her better she was faced with many challenges and I thought perhaps I cannot relate to her at all! Circumstances arrived so quickly for the young daughter of a shop keeper that I found myself wishing I had the opportunity to know what life was like for Claudette before her world was turned upside down. Fortunately Trent includes small bits of her early life throughout the story, painting a picture of the doll shop as well as the blossoming of a very important romance.
What I like about Claudette is that she is flawed and as I read I kept thinking she was a blond mix between Lizzy Bennet and Scarlett O'Hara. She makes mistakes but is insistently a strong girl who grows into an equally strong and wiser woman. She is in love, makes friends, and essentially finds a family in a very rough world. But my favorite part: her trade. Claudette grew up in a doll shop her father kept, and he was very, very good. As Claudette makes her way through life we learn about the entire process of constructing these historic creations, from the selection of wood, the carving, painting, designing of garments and even a bit about movable limbs.
Claudette's story takes her to England, but the story shifts to France quite often as we are updated with events unfolding on the continent. I read these parts as 'French moments' because suddenly, between Claudette's tale, you are in France. These moments occur periodically throughout the story showing the revolution as it affects Marie Antoinette, including little details from Antoinette's daily life at Versailles, her time with friends, and later at the Tuileries Palace in Paris where she lived as a captive. These glimpses into Antoinette's routine would be of interest to anyone with a budding curiosity of the doomed queen. I was so often deeply involved with Claudette's story I did not want to read an Antoinette update, but Trent does well at providing a great deal of detail in such small parts. My favorite French moment was when Antoinette took lunch in at her petit Hameau. I felt like I was there, (wouldn't that be wonderful?) among the tall grass and breezy weather, having delicate little fancies with Mrs. B herself.
Trent, Christine. 2010. The queen's dollmaker. New York: Kensington Books. ISBN 9780758238573
Released December 2009, available at