In her previous book, How Paris Became Paris, Joan DeJean charted the transformation of Paris into a modern, alluring city. Here, DeJean, trustee professor of French at the University of Pennsylvania and author of a number of books on French literature and history, turns her attention to a tale of intrigue and finance in 18th-century France. And what a story it is!
In the preface to The Queen’s Embroiderer, DeJean recalls her discovery of a document in France’s National Archives that catapulted her into tracing the remarkable love story of the hapless Marie Louise Magoulet, daughter of the Queen’s Embroiderer, and Louis Chevrot, son of an ambitious father not about to let his son marry a girl without a dowry like Marie Louise. His father’s solution? Arrest the pregnant Marie Louise as a prostitute and ship her off to New Orleans!
A consummate researcher, DeJean teases out this fascinating history by delving into boxed archival records, contained in “sturdy dark cardboard and tied with dingy beige ribbons.” Yet, as in How Paris Became Paris, DeJean turns her astute eye not just to the story of two individual families but to the broader historical context of the time. In this way, reading The Queen’s Embroiderer is a bit like listening to a fascinating, erudite lecture or examining an elaborate piece of needlework.
Following the stitches of the tale leads readers to an exploration of the worlds of finance and fashion, an analysis of the first stock market boom (and bust), the founding of New Orleans, and the complexity of social relations, including marriage contracts. If your plans for springtime in France haven’t materialized, don’t despair. Just open The Queen’s Embroiderer and you’ll find yourself transported.