The Dream Maker

Written by Alison Anderson (trans.) Jean-Christophe Rufin
Review by Terri Baker

The Dream Maker follows the Renaissance adventures of Jacques Coeur, the man who played the role of Argentier to King Charles VII of France (1403–61). This financial role, in Rufin’s engaging story, has less in common with a modern minister of finance than a banker and merchant extraordinaire. Rufin takes us from Coeur’s early childhood through the events that inspired him to stay true to his working-class origins by rejecting the aristocracy’s continued worship of chivalry and by bringing about a rebirth of France’s power through mercantilism and finance.

Coeur’s first travels to the Levant (i.e. the Eastern Mediterranean) in the aftermath of personal disgrace introduce him to rich and exotic materials, some of which he takes back to France. This first of many voyages gave Coeur a vision to connect France with the rest of the world through a network of mercantile relations, allowing the country to rebuild from the depredations of the Hundred Years’ War. Like Cromwell in Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, Coeur sees diplomacy and trade as the secret to prosperity for his country, rather than expensive wars that satisfy an aristocratic ideal of honor won through battle.

Rufin also reimagines Coeur’s relationship with Agnès Sorel, an often-painted royal mistress. Ironically, his love for her demonstrates all the characteristics of the courtly love associated with Chivalric Romance: a noble passion devoid of love’s physical aspects. Rufin, already a renowned author in France, has written a fascinating novel with themes similar to Mantel’s Wolf Hall. In both, we see men of the working class rise to financial prominence through their mercantile activities to become close advisors to kings, only to lose it all when their kings turns on them.