Here we are already in the holiday season, whether we like it or not. Holiday decorations are up in all the stores and the holiday sales are on. It feels like it gets earlier and earlier every year. The book I am spotlighting today is perfect for the season as it is about the rise of the modern day department store. What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen chronicles the life of Marshall Fields one of the owners and founders of Field, Leiter & Co, which later became Marshall Field & Company. Fields helped modernize the dry good store in Chicago, and with is efforts, he created the department store shopping experience. His stores were landmarks in Chicago for over a hundred years. His store arose from the ashes of the Great Fire and reinvented itself time and time again. In the fall of 2006, the Marshall Field & Company stores were taken over and converted into Macy's, much to the dismay of Chicagoans. Renee Rosen takes us back in time, starting her story on the eve of the Great Fire. Her tale is told through the eyes of Delia Spencer, Marshall Field's second wife. Take a stroll through history and learn how the department store was created.
I am pleased to welcome author Renee Rosen here today to share her thoughts on the department store. Let's meet Renee:
Renee Rosen is the author of EVERY CROOKED POT, DOLLFACE: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties and WHAT THE LADY WANTS: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age. Her next book, BEFORE WE KNEW BETTER will be published by Penguin Random House/ NAL in November of 2015. She lives in Chicago. Visit Renee on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads and YouTube.
Here is Renee:
LUXURY DEPARTMENT STORES OF YESTERDAY
Have you noticed that there’s a renewed interest in department stores of yesterday? PBS/ Masterpiece Classic introduced The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge and Stephanie Lehmann published her amazing novel, ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE.
But I didn’t know any of those projects were in the works when I began writing WHAT THE LADY WANTS: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age. Honestly, at the time I wasn’t sure that others would share in my interest in the Chicago department store or the man who brought luxury shopping to the city.
(And by the way, Harry Selfridge worked for Marshall Field for 25 years before he went across the pond and opened his own version of Marshall Field’s).
Turns out that not only were people interested in it, they were downright passionate about the subject. Marshall Field’s opened in the 1800s and remained a landmark destination in Chicago until Macy’s purchased it in 2005. Plenty of Chicagoans still call the State Street store “Field’s” while other refuse to shop in Macy’s period. There’s even a grass roots organization dedicated to bringing back Marshall Field’s, called Fields Fans Chicago.
(Photos of Marshall Fields and Company Click images for credits)
This kind of devotion got me wondering about vintage department stores and why they’ve captured our interest and dare I say, our hearts? In the world of Amazon and Zappos and online retailing, could it be that we’re starved for a little thing called personal service? Yes the Internet is convenient but I think people are longing for the experience of shopping. Remember the days when you got to touch, feel, and try on an item? You could even take it home with you that very day! Remember having someone wait on you who was so knowledgeable about their merchandise that they could address all your questions and make certain that you left their store satisfied? And if by chance you weren’t, there was a human being to help make it right. And that’s as far back as I can remember, but back in the early days of Marshall Field’s, the clerks knew their customer’s names, knew their preferences. Sadly the merchants—true retail merchants—are a thing of the past, replaced by technoglogy and algorithms.
Now we all know that online shopping is not going away and Cyber Monday, just around the corner, will probably establish new shopping records. But that doesn’t mean that in our hearts we don’t wish for a little good old-fashioned shopping experience. If we can’t get there on foot, then hopefully a through these wonderful TV programs and the pages of novels like mine, we can transport ourselves back in time, if only for a little while.
So true, there is something magical about strolling through a department store and touching and seeing all the merchandise first hand. Online shopping is convenient, but it takes a bit of the charm out of shopping. A huge thanks to Renee for stopping by today. Renee comes with a tremendous giveaway for you all today. Renee is graciously offering a chance to win copies of both Dollface and What the Lady Wants.
This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. To enter read the Contest Policies and fill out the Rafflecopter. Good Luck! Thanks so much Renee for the terrific giveaway!
Here is my review:
What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen
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.Paperback, 448 pages
Four stars: An interesting snapshot of history with engaging characters.
Seventeen year old Delia Spencer puts the finishing touches on her gorgeous outfit. She is headed to the prestigious opening for one of Chicago's latest and greatest posh hotels. At the party, Delia meets the industrious Marshall Fields. A man twenty years her senior, but for some inexplicable reason, she is drawn to him. As they chat, a murmur goes through the crowd as alarms sound throughout the city. Another fire is blazing. Soon the crowd can see the flames moving quickly toward the hotel, and they must evacuate. The Great Chicago Fire burns through Chicago, destroying the city and taking countless lives. Delia and Marshall survive. Marshall Fields quickly reopens his store, which helps the residents find some bit of normal in the destruction. With each meeting, Delia finds herself more and more attracted to Fields, but he is a married man. The two of them find their fates intertwined, and Fields endeavors to give her what she wants. Will Delia find her heart's desire?
What I Liked:
- Ms. Rosen once again writes an intriguing and interesting historical novel that features the story of Marshall Fields and his mistress/wife, Delia Spencer. This is a sweeping story that shows how Fields helped establish the modern day department story after the devastating destruction of the Chicago Fire. I thoroughly enjoyed going back in time and learning more about this period in history.
- Ms. Rosen excels at writing engaging characters. At the heart of this book are three unforgettable characters who shuck the boundaries of society and manage to form lifelong friendships. The story is told through the eyes of Delia Spencer, a young socialite. I liked watching Delia grow and transform into a smart, capable woman who turned her back on gossip and found her own path. I admired her courage and spirit to follow her heart's desire even if it her choices were unconventional and the fodder for gossip. I imagine it would have taken nerves and fortitude to brave Chicago's elite society, but Delia does just that. Marshall Fields was a larger than life character. A man with great ambition who was never afraid of hard work. He pushed the envelope and birthed the modern, luxury department store which still survives today. I was fascinated by this revolutionary man. Finally, the third wheel was Arthur Canton, Delia's husband. He was a tortured soul, who had everything at his fingertips but was still unhappy. I loved seeing the trio make their strange relationship work, and I liked how they were there for each other.
- This book starts in October 1871, the night of the Great Chicago Fire. I know the basic details of the catastrophic burning, but not much else. Ms. Rosen places you right in the middle of the chaos and panic as Chicago burns. I liked learning more about this historical event that transformed Chicago. Many other important events are touched on in this book as well, such as the Haymaker Affair and the World's Fair. Rosen skillfully provides the basics without miring the book down in mundane detail. I am sure she could have written an entire book on any one of these main events.
- At the heart of the story is the torrid romance between Fields and Delia Canton. The two carry on a thirty year affair, and their relationship was not a secret. I found it fascinating that the two carried on a public affair and survived all the scandal. It was a strange romance for sure.
- I appreciated that Ms. Rosen tried to keep the book as historically accurate as possible. I am a reader that likes to have the tale as close to the truth as possible. Rosen includes an author's note at the end in which she discusses where she took some liberties with the story. If you are a fan of historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. I found it fascinating.
And The Not So Much:
- I was a tiny bit disappointed that there wasn't a bit more discussion on the rebuilding of Chicago after the fire. I would love to know a bit more about the recovery.
- Ms. Rosen took some liberties with Arthur Canton's character. Even though I liked the way it played out in the book, I was disappointed to learn that Ms. Rosen portrayed him as being gay even though there ins't evidence to support this claim. I don't know, I am a purist and I like my historical books as true to fact as possible.
- Even though I liked the way everything played out and I was satisfied with the ending, I wanted to know more. I wish that there was an Epilogue at the end of the book that provided more information on the fate of Marshall Field's store and his empire as well as what happened to Delia. I had to google the information because my quizzical mind just had to know.
What the Lady Wants was a fascinating account of how Marshall Fields helped create the modern department store and changed the face of American retail forever. I loved learning more about his rise to fame as well as his long time love affair with Delia Spencer Canton. If you enjoy good historical fiction, I urge you to check out this book, I was riveted.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.