Against the backdrop of France's first stock-market crash, the son of the eponymous Queen's embroiderer and daughter of a greedy financier strike up an ill-fated romance, battling the disapproval of their families as well as the changing tides of French life leading to the Revolution of 1789.
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.
The Queen's Embroiderer ... features guild-hopping, inheritance fraud, domestic abuse, eloping to England, sending toddlers to their deaths, locking the gates against the poor, and the occasional escape from a chain gang. There's an impressive depth of research — this is, as much as anything else, a mystery about the manipulation of record-keeping and identity — and it reveals an equally impressive depth of both determination and depravity in some of the family figures, but by the time she introduces John Law and the 1720 stock market crisis to provide a wider historical context, it's almost a footnote to the family disaster ... DeJean is so strapped for good news that in an attempt to scrape together a happy ending for anyone at all, she occasionally glosses over, say, the moral implications of why going to Haiti was good for business. A few survivors of the Chevrot and Magoulet debacles do manage to get out from their forefathers' shadows — and that there are so few loose ends in this two-century saga is a testament to DeJean's research (and a compelling argument for preserving historical records on a local scale, for that matter).
Though the fortunes of both families burst in the first stock market crisis, it is the story of star-crossed lovers Louise Magoulet and Louis Chevrot that takes center stage. Fighting their families, who view marriage as only a means to increasing status and fortune, they (especially Louise) suffer extremely tragic fates in their quest to be together. Though the narrative often gets bogged down in economic minutiae, the fascinating details of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Parisian fashion, politics, and feuds will reward persevering readers.