The Draper’s Daughter

Written by Ellin Carsta John Brownjohn (trans.)
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

Elisabeth Hardenstein works hard for her father, a draper in 1351 Cologne, Germany. Her father trusts her acumen over that of her brother, Stephen, an unreliable, disruptive young man who is also her twin. Stephen is fired from an apprenticeship, returns home, and immediately tries to usurp Elisabeth’s authority with the business. When her father has a stroke, and is bedridden, Stephen takes charge and loses their money in gambling, and Elisabeth must ply her skills and knowledge in the cloth trade in a time when women weren’t allowed to trade on their own. Facing danger, and rejection, and the loss of her long-time love, Rafael, to a girl with a rich dowry, will she prevail?

While I was absorbed in Elisabeth’s trials, this book reads like a young-adult novel with sparse descriptions of people or cities and often simplistic, too-modern dialog with little deep nuance of character. The relationship with Rafael is not set up to show their undying love, so it never connected with me. Elisabeth disregards her personal reputation with him, which would have been ruinous in this era, and Rafael is a cad for taking advantage of her. Stephen is a dissolute horror whom she should never have trusted the second time—but he keeps the story lively. Elisabeth’s struggles as a woman to thrive in the cloth trade ring true, and the details about different types of cloth are interesting. The novel is a pleasant, light read.