What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age. Renee Rosen. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 448 pp. ISBN#: 9780451466716.
1871 Chicago – Delia Spencer is attending a ball and is fascinated by the men she sees examining the ladies, that is until she meets Marshall Field. He’s an older man who exhibits all the graceful, polite but kind traits that attract an impressionable young lady just stepping out into the finest of society. Delia is a very intelligent lady when it comes to appreciating the finest of fashions in clothes, interior decoration in any home, architecture, art, and more. But all of that comes to a screeching halt when the same night as the ball the Great Fire of Chicago breaks out. Delia, her family, and all of the City of Chicago are doing the best they can to stay ahead of the fire until they manage to get far from the City. It’s not just a fire – it’s a disaster that destroys all the major businesses of Delia’s family’s friends and acquaintances. It will be rebuilt. The process symbolizes the upcoming life Delia and Marshall will share until 1906.
No, they will not marry yet for Marshall is married to Nannie, a hypochondriac woman whose only consolation is her laudanum that makes her even sicker and furiously jealous as well. For it’s clear that Marshall and Delia share a spark that will grow into a friendship and later passionate love, a relationship few spouses ever achieve. Marshall is just as married to his work and the reader will be fascinated as he rebuilds his lost business, beginning on the day after the fire. He will argue with his partner for many years until Delia encourages him to strike out on his own. She becomes pivotal in helping him to choose styles and designs for everything in his store, from clothing to jewelry to home products and more. Later she will help him create a home away from home for all the ladies who live in and visit Chicago. These pages are absolutely riveting and delightful, sure to be loved by anyone with a flair for beauty in one’s personal appearance or home. Nothing, I repeat, nothing is left out or repeated; utterly spectacular!
Delia marries a man who has inherited money but has little else that he loves, other than his horses that he raises. Arthur has a penchant that is totally unacceptable in the late 1800s; he and Delia will come to an agreement but one that is never wholly acceptable to either of them, one that will bring as much tragedy as it does satisfaction. Marshall is there for her through many shocking scenes that the reader will never forget. His debacle with workers demonstrating and fighting for better pay, rights and other benefits is depicted with all of its passionate conflict and tension that is most likely precisely as it was in the famous Haymarket riots.
What the Lady Wants… is superb historical fiction that this reviewer loved and was so disappointed when it ended. It has everything within it, fashion, mystery, crime, labor disputes, social refinement and snobbery, family support and opposition, tragedy and stunning success. A MUST read and guaranteed to be a best seller! A KEEPER!!! Exquisitely written, Renee Rosen!