Book Review

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

wtlw rrSTORY: 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.

REVIEW: 1871 – Chicago, Illinois

The wealthy Delia Spencer and her family are horrified as they flee from the Great Fire of Chicago that rages for two days and devours most of the entire town of Chicago.  While the town is still fairly new, its residents and business owners are proving themselves to be very resilient as they work hard to rebuild again.

Marshall Field has a nice dry good store in town that was lost in the fire.  But soon after, he reopens in a makeshift building while work begins on rebuilding his store.  His determination to offer the people of Chicago the usual opulent items they are used to purchasing soon puts him and his store at the top.

The wealthy of Chicago are all rebuilding their homes and businesses.  The fairly small group of very well-to-do gather together to form their powerhouse, and thus the age of the robber barons was born. They party together; the men do business together; the women shop together and decorate their large mansions together.

Delia Spencer marries Arthur Caton, the son of a judge who is an overbearing father. Arthur has chosen to not work but instead to enjoy his life of leisure.  He and Delia spend their days getting with their friends.  However, Arthur is more interested in spending time with his male friends than with Delia.  One friend is Marshall Field and his wife, Nannie.  Nannie is a flaky woman who is addicted to laudanum which causes great embarrassment to her husband.  Before long, Delia finds herself attracted to Marshall Field and thus begins a love story that lasts for decades.

This book begins in 1871 and goes to 1906.  It tells of the incredible history of Chicago; the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893; the differences between the very rich and those barely making ends meet.  We read of workers uprising and the fight of the wealthy to keep them in their places.  The families of Delia and Marshall and all of their challenges and successes are detailed in this novel that keeps the reader turning the pages enthralled by every word.  I truly loved this book and hope that others will read it too. So much history compiled in one novel makes it a true treasure.

Connie for b2b


1 thought on “‘What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age’ by Renee Rosen”

  1. Golly, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! If you live in Chicago, I’m betting you will love it even more because it’s a history of the city and the Gilded Age.

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