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…
“Unique, imaginative…replete with delightful details and astounding characters, both real and imagined.”
–Donna Russo Morin, author of THE COURTIER’S SECRET
“A winningly original story, glittering with atmospheric detail!”–Leslie Carroll, author of Royal Affairs and Notorious Royal Marriages
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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.
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?
Czech edition, released 2011
Polish edition, released 2012