Book Review: What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  NAL

Summary:   In late-nineteenth-century Chicago, visionary retail tycoon Marshall Field made his fortune wooing women customers with his famous motto: “Give the lady what she wants.” His legendary charm also won the heart of socialite Delia Spencer and led to an infamous love affair.  

The night of the Great Fire, as seventeen-year-old Delia watches the flames rise and consume what was the pioneer town of Chicago, she can’t imagine how much her life, her city, and her whole world are about to change. Nor can she guess that the agent of that change will not simply be the fire, but more so the man she meets that night.…

Leading the way in rebuilding after the fire, Marshall Field reopens his well-known dry goods store and transforms it into something the world has never seen before: a glamorous palace of a department store. He and his powerhouse coterie—including Potter Palmer and George Pullman—usher in the age of robber barons, the American royalty of their generation.
But behind the opulence, their private lives are riddled with scandal and heartbreak. Delia and Marshall first turn to each other out of loneliness, but as their love deepens, they will stand together despite disgrace and ostracism, through an age of devastation and opportunity, when an adolescent Chicago is transformed into the gleaming White City of the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893.

Definitely a 4.5 read and a favorite for sure! I'm a sucker for department store stories and Marshall Field & Co is about as storied as they come so I was pretty excited to read this one. Delia and Marshall had a more than 30 year affair and it wasn't until both their original spouses had expired that Delia became "Mrs. Field". The story of a long romance between the young woman and the man many years her senior reminded me of A Triple Knot by Emma Campion (I read it last year). There was a lot that took place over the span of the story and I won't spoil it but I do think Arthur Caton and Nannie Field are two of the more interesting characters featured. I admit to not being a bit sorry when Nannie's storyline concluded & considering she was the first Mrs. Field and had a legitimate claim to post a grievance about, that took some doing. Arthur's story was just heart-breaking and poignant. I did tire a bit of Delia's shaking & apprehensiveness over being shunned by the socialite circuit. This spanned years and I felt that as she was carrying on her affair as pretty much public knowledge she shouldn't have expected any other, she shouldn't have cared nor should she have craved those two-faced bitter chicks phony attention for a minute. Still, this was a very good and long look at some very interesting characters and there are also great descriptions of the Chicago fire, beautiful homes and the various iterations of Marshall Field's stores over time. If you're a fan, Selfridge even features into the story here and I enjoyed that as well.

I'd definitely recommend this one to historical fiction fans, department store story fans and just anyone looking for a good weekend read.

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