The full title of this wonderful book is: What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age. Quite a mouthful, isn't it? It really was quite a good book. I came upon it while I was in the midst of a Secret Santa swap. The woman I was given had the book on her wish list. I was at Barnes & Nobel picking out the books to send her and when I read the synopsis I had to get myself a copy.
Synopsis from GoodReads w/o Spoilers
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 the loneliness, but as their love deepens, they will stand together despite disgrace and ostracism, through an age of devastation and opportunity, when as adolescent Chicago is transformed into the gleaming White City of the Chicago's World's Fair of 1893.
I think the book jacket is beautiful. It sets the time period perfectly. The soft color with Delia's bright blue dress makes her stand out. Stand out she does in the book.
Upon reading the synopsis on the back of the book, I knew I had to read this book as soon as possible. I'm a sucker for a good love story, especially when the love is forbidden. I also love historical fiction. Having once lived in Chicago I was intrigued by a story that took place when the Great Fire happened. I had heard about the Great Fire, but didn't really know much about it at all. The author, Renee Rosen, incorporated several historical events over the course of the novel. Rosen also based the majority of the story on the actual love affair that Marshall Field and Delia Spencer had in real life.
The real Marshall Field and Delia Spencer
I was immediately attached to Delia and Marshall. You are introduced to them in the very beginning of the novel. I was able to empathize with all of the characters; except of course for the few that we are not supposed to like :) Even the one(s) I didn't like, I was able to connect with them and be interested enough to continue reading their story. I wanted to know where everyone ended up in their life.
The time period drew me in immediately and going through thirty years with these characters. Reading about how these wealthy people lived back in the 1800s was truly fascinating to me. Seeing how shopping went from a small dry-goods store to what it was in 1906 when Marshall Field died. There is a part in the book where Marshall is planning a renovation for his store and the discussion of having bathrooms in the store is brought up. I never thought about stores NOT having bathrooms!
The Love Story
Throughout the story I wanted Marshall and Delia to be together. Back in the late 1800s divorce was rarely an option, especially if you were a part of society. Marshall and Delia went through life completely in love with each other, but stayed married to their spouses. Their marriages were not great, but nothing could be done. It's amazing how much things have changed in the last 100+ years.
My Overall Thoughts
I love historical fiction, a good love story, and some scandal. If you are intrigued by the same, then I highly recommend this novel. I would come home from work and want to just sit down and read my book. I read it quite quickly. The story drew me in right away and I just kept on going. There were some parts that I thought were a little slow and possibly unnecessary, but very few moments like that. The paperback copy that I read was 420 pages and I think I read it in about two weeks. That's pretty fast for me, considering I don't get to read all that often. I found myself reading up to 60-75 pages a night.
All material © Erica Musyt