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The Queen’s Dollmaker

A young woman, struggling to expand her London dollmaking trade, finds a surprising customer in Queen Marie Antoinette, an avid doll collector herself.  This seemingly innocent exchange puts Claudette’s life in danger when she is lured to Paris under false pretenses.  Money and jewels are being smuggled in dolls destined for the Queen, and have now been discovered by the fledgling revolutionary French government…

Read excerpt here

Read the backstory

Read the reviews

See Reader Discussion Questions here or print here

See Foreign Editions here

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backstory

“THE QUEEN’S DOLLMAKER” BACKSTORY

Many people have asked me how I came up with the unusual idea for a dollmaker heroine.   It really was the first idea that popped into my head when I sat down to write a book.  I’ve been passionate about doll collecting since I was a teenager, but had never collected antique dolls.  So I had a vast gap in my knowledge about dolls, giving me the great opportunity to visit libraries and bookstores to fill that gap.

Did you know that there are very few dolls left from before the 19th century?  Homemade “play” dolls were made from scraps of fabric, dried fruit, etc., and could not stand the test of time.  The more elegant wood fashion dolls described in my book were the domain of the wealthy, not the commoner, so naturally there were fewer produced.  Wax dolls did not start coming into use until the early 19th century, something I did not know until I began my research for the book.   Interested in seeing authentic reproduction 18th century dolls?  Visit Susan Parris Originals.

My interest in Marie Antoinette started about ten years ago when I first started reading about the royal courts of Europe.  Her life as a revered-princess-turned-scapegoat fascinated me.  She was a known doll collector, sending them regularly to her mother and sister as gifts, so she very easily found a place in my story.

I was very fortunate to have sold DOLLMAKER without an agent to the lovely Audrey LaFehr at Kensington as part of a two-book deal.   THE WAX APPRENTICE is the sequel to DOLLMAKER, and I have a third idea rattling around in the back of my mind.  Details in a future web site update, I promise.

queenannedoll
A typical 18th-century Queen Anne style wooden fashion doll

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excerpt

“I’m pretty sure Ms. Trent can look forward to rewarding career writing historical fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed The Queen’s Dollmaker. Rare for me with debut authors but as soon as I finished TQD I wanted to pick up and start her next historical fiction book...”  Marcia Larsen, The Printed Page

“This is a captivating novel that combines the life of a French girl of humble beginnings with the history of Marie Antoinette and her family.”  Tiffany Viale, Affaire de Coeur Magazine

The craft of dollmaking is at the enchanting center of Trent's novel; at times I felt I was inside of the ballet “La Boutique Fantasque”. The descriptions of silk, wax, and wood, of the various types of dolls, of the entire doll making process, are intriguing and demonstrate the whimsical side of the eighteenth century.  Elena Maria Vidal, Tea at Trianon

“A unique novel that show the reader details of dollmaking, along with an outsider’s perspective to the merchant side of both the English and French courts.  Reminiscent of Jean Plaidy’s gift for a balanced storyline.”  Elizabeth Johnson, Historically Obsessed

“If you are in the mood for French Revolution fiction and enjoy a strong female protagonist set against near impossible odds, but determined nonetheless, this is the book for you! Christine Trent has produced a fantastic first novel and I will definitely be looking for those to follow!”  Arleigh Johnson, Historical-Fiction.com

“The Queen's Dollmaker is one of the most original books I read in 2009 and I have only one thing to say to Christine Trent: I crave for more!”   Alex Duarte, Historical Tapestry

“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.”  Lauren Marie, Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide

“I really enjoyed reading such a fresh premise for a novel taking place during the French Revolution. The storyline is dramatic yet plausible and it allowed me to view the Terror and the fall of the French monarchy through a completely different lens.”  Allie Greenwald, Hist-Fic Chick

“I’m pretty sure Ms. Trent can look forward to rewarding career writing historical fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed The Queen’s Dollmaker. Rare for me with debut authors but as soon as I finished TQD I wanted to pick up and start her next historical fiction book...”  Marcia Larsen, The Printed Page

4 Stars:  “Trent's debut follows the fortunes of an intrepid heroine who triumphs over numerous obstacles. Her portrait of the world of a dollmaker places her in Rosalind Laker's league; she takes an unusual profession, actual historical personages, a fascinating backdrop and places her heroine in a world of wealth, fame, intrigue and danger.”  Romantic Times Book Reviews

“A unique novel that show the reader details of dollmaking, along with an outsider’s perspective to the merchant side of both the English and French courts.  Reminiscent of Jean Plaidy’s gift for a balanced storyline.”  --Elizabeth Johnson, Historically Obsessed

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excerpt

Unedited contracted excerpt, Copyright 2008 Christine Trent.

BOOK EXCERPT “THE QUEEN’S DOLLMAKER”

In this chapter the dollmaker heroine, Claudette, has been invited to Versailles from London to be presented to Marie Antoinette.  She is hoping to be reunited with Jean-Philippe her childhood sweetheart from whom she was parted during a devastating fire several years ago.

The following morning she awoke early to sunlight streaming through the tall, multi-paned windows.  She arose, and, putting a robe around her, opened the windows to lean out and enjoy the sunshine.  The cacophony of noise from the street assailed her.  She marveled that even outside Paris the distinct sounds of the city -- the rumbling of carriages traveling along rough roads, the shouting of street sellers, and the barking, braying, and wailing of animals -- could still overwhelm the senses.  But what matter, today she would be presented to the Queen!  And, just possibly, she might meet Jean-Philippe again.

A light rap on the door brought her out of her reverie.  Outside, a small chambermaid was holding a tray of food.  "Madame, I ’ave brought your breakfast," she said shyly, holding it up for inspection.  The girl could not have been more than fifteen.  She had dark hair cut at odd angles, as though hacked at without benefit of a mirror, and her gray eyes stood out like giant watery spheres in her pale, thin face.  Claudette had the impression that a lost kitten had just wandered into her room.

"Merci.  Please place it on the writing table.  What is your name, little one?"

"I am called Jolie."

"Very well, Jolie.  Are you the innkeeper's daughter?"

"No, madame, I am an orphan.  My parents both died of the fever.  My Uncle Bernard is the proprietor here."

Claudette felt a pang of compassion for the girl, a child really, who had also lost her parents tragically.  "How old are you?"

"I am eighteen."

Eighteen!  Only five years younger than Claudette.  She was obviously not very well nourished here at the inn.  "Well, Jolie, would you like to earn some extra money?"

The gray eyes managed to do the impossible and grow even wider in the kitten's face.  "Yes, madame!  ’Ow may I be of assistance to you?"

"Jolie, I am Claudette Laurent, a dollmaker.  Today I am to be presented to the Queen, but I have no attendant to help me dress and do my toilette.  Can you help me?"

"Oh, yes, madame.  The Queen, do you say?  Oh my, yes, I shall make you beautiful."  Realizing her mistake, she quickly covered, "Oh, but you are already very pretty.  I but meant that I will help you emphasize your every pretty feature."

Claudette smiled.  "Be at rest, Jolie.  I am not offended in the least.  Finish your other duties quickly and return to help me.  I must leave in two hours."

Jolie scampered out of the room, and Claudette sat down to her hearty breakfast of an omelette, rolls, cheese, and coffee.  By the time she was finished, Jolie was outside the door again.  Looking at her new attendant, who was now carrying a bag filled with supplies, Claudette wondered briefly if this poor lost kitten, with her disheveled hair poking out under her cap, could actually help her create a successful toilette.  She was quickly assured that asking Jolie was the right thing to do.  The girl practically attacked Claudette's trunks, pulling out gowns, tsk-tsking that they had been left in a crumpled state too long, and why were they not separated by tissue paper?  In response to Claudette's inquisitive gaze, she said, "For several months, I was a maid to a Duchesse staying at her chateau near the town where I lived with my parents.  When her husband died, she sold the chateau and returned to her family in Avignon, and I returned home.  But I promise you that I learned enough to help Madame Claudette rival all of the beauties of the Court."

"That is an insurmountable task, I fear, Jolie, but nevertheless let’s set out to make me at least presentable."

After seating Claudette in the chair in front of the vanity, Jolie pulled from Claudette's luggage a box containing perfumes and cosmetics.  With a skill that surprised her subject, Jolie expertly applied rouge, eye color, and lip color.  Next, she teased Claudette's hair out and up until Claudette was certain her head would not fit through a doorway.  Inserting a small pad on top of Claudette's head, Jolie swept up her hair and then gathered it to a point around the pad, tying it together with wires.  After fastening it all firmly, Jolie rummaged through her bag of supplies.  Various items, obviously confiscated from the kitchen and various parts of the inn, were now being twisted together and formed almost into a landscape in her hair.  She could see a large spool of thread, the top of an infant's christening gown, a pair of glasses, and the handles from a pair of scissors, all miraculously woven together and seemingly nestled into her mountain of hair, although the items were actually pinned at various points to the pad base.

"I don’t understand, Jolie, what this hairdressing means."

"It is the fashion of Queen Marie Antoinette's to create a depiction in the coiffure.  You are a dollmaker, therefore you have the representation of your trade here for all to see."

"But I’m worried that when I stand up, I may fall over from this concoction on my head.  You will have to be here when I return to bring my hair back to normal."

"I will madame, I will.  No, no, do not get up yet, I must finish your toilette.  Here, I will use this puff to powder your hair."  She handed Claudette a mask and draped a cloth around her shoulders.  "Hold this over your face, madame, while I begin."

From behind the mask held to protect her face from the powder, Claudette heard Jolie coughing from the dust.  Being fashionable must be of the utmost chore at Court, Claudette realized.

"Voila, madame, your toilette is complete."

Claudette removed the mask and looked at herself in the mirror.  She was a completely different woman.  The cosmetics lent her an air of sophistication she did not think she actually possessed, and her newly powdered hair, white as snow except for the implements woven into it, well, the hair was something William would probably pay money to see.

"Well, now what shall I wear?"

"Oh, madame, I have selected your dark blue gown with the lace-ruffled sleeves.  However, I would like to use the pink underskirt from this other gown with the blue.  If I apply some of this rouge to your satin shoes, I can make them a close match to the underskirt.  These stockings are not silk, but if you do not lift your skirt too much when curtseying, the Queen will not notice.  I will remove the bow from your nightdress, and with just a few stitches apply it to the front of your gown."

Claudette nodded her assent to all of Jolie's suggestions, and patiently stood while her young attendant fussed over her and dressed her.  Claudette was certain that she would not be able to walk, much less curtsey to the Queen, under the weight of Jolie's handiwork.

"You are a fairy tale, madame.  The Queen will be most impressed."

"Well, first let’s see if I am even able to get to the Queen."  Claudette rose slowly.  "Stay there, Jolie, and I shall practice my curtsey to you."  Attempting to keep her head erect, Claudette swept down to the ground, taking care not to expose more than her shoe when grabbing her skirts.

"Madame, I am certain that was perfect!" Jolie clapped her hands together.  Jolie had never actually witnessed a presentation to the Queen and had no notion of a proper curtsey, but wanted to please Claudette.

"We can but hope so.  Now for your final task, Jolie, find someone to hire me a carriage to go to the palace."

Would you like to read the rest of this excerpt? Join Christine's announce only newsletter group here.

Unedited contracted excerpt, Copyright 2008 Christine Trent.

 
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1.  What were your assumptions about the use and manufacture of dolls during the book’s time period?  What surprised you about dollmaking in the 18th century?

2.  Do you think Claudette made a bad decision to go back to Paris for a second time to visit Marie Antoinette?  What positive outcomes were there as a result of this visit?

3.  Why was Jean-Philippe willing to imprison – and even approve of a death sentence for – his long lost love, Claudette?  Were his motives pure?  In other words, did he believe in what he was doing, or was he merely angry at Claudette for rejecting him?  Did you feel sympathy for Jean-Philippe?  Would he have been less inclined to join the revolutionaries had Claudette return to Paris and married him?

4.  What factors in England and France during the time period of the novel made it difficult for women to learn a trade and become successful entrepreneurs and tradesmen?  Where did tradesmen fit into the social hierarchy of English society? How did those social factors affect Claudette’s ability to start, maintain, and grow her business?

5.  For centuries the English appear to have had a love/hate relationship with the French, mistrusting them on one hand, following their fashions and their trends on the other.   This was apparently at play when Mrs. Ashby wanted to impress her guests with a French maid. What skills (besides dollmaking) and personality traits did Claudette possess that helped her maintain her “elevated” position while in the employ of the Ashby family?  How did those skills and traits help her in the growth of her doll business, and then through her ordeal in a French prison?

6.  Was Count Fersen acting maliciously towards Claudette when he concocted the idea to use her dolls to smuggle valuables to the King and Queen of France?  Why did he think this was a good plan for helping the monarchs?

7.  How do you think Marie Grosholtz’s experiences in the days leading up to the revolution affected her future plans for a wax museum?

8.  Compare and contrast William and Jean-Philippe.  In what ways did they make poor decisions regarding Claudette?  What was each man’s greatest show of love for her?

9.  Did William’s position as someone favored by the King - but not yet made part of the peerage - make it more socially acceptable for him to fall in love with a tradeswoman?  Would Claudette’s trade itself, dollmaking, have been more acceptable to the upper ranks than say that of household servant, actress, or dressmaker?

10.  What were Lizbit’s real motives for everything she did to Claudette?  Do you think her suffering at the end of the novel provided redemption for her activities?

11.  What was the socio-economic environment in France that caused the French Revolution?  Could a convergence of such circumstances cause a similar political reaction in today’s world or does the election system of a democratic society such as the U.S. give the populace enough voice to preclude such an upheaval?

12. Why do you think the revolutionaries were determined to execute their King and Queen?  Was it a personal vendetta against them, or did they represent something undesirable?  Or was there another reason?

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Czech edition, released 2011

Polish edition, released 2012