Marshall Field and the Gilded Age

Renee Rosen has written an interesting biographical novel: What the Lady Wants. Through the eyes of socialite Delia Caton, Marshall Field and his social set come alive. Though twenty years separate their ages, Delia and Marshall turn to each other for relief from their unhappy marriages and scandalize Chicago society. But as much as this is a love story, post-Great Fire Chicago also plays a role. Field's was the first store to open after the fire, and that endeared both the store and its founder to the city. From the protagonists' rather lofty vantage point, one experiences the Haymarket Riot, the Columbian Exposition, and the rise of the first skyscrapers. While not a particularly quick read (Rosen does have an eye for sensual detail), this book will keep you entertained long into the evening with each new incident in the characters' lives.

One of the sources that Rosen cites is the classic Give the Lady What She Wants! by Lloyd Wendt. The title refers to the stated philosophy of Marshall Field, who knew that when it came to fashion and quality, his customers were just as sophisticated as the ladies of New York and Paris. This book tracks the history of both Marshall Field and his company, and makes for an engaging read.

Mr. Selfridge in Chicago by Gayle Soucek is a biography of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the man who made Marshall Field a mint but also drove him to distraction. Eventually fired by Field, Selfridge went to England and founded his own department store, which exists to this day. This is another page turner set mostly in Marshall Field's and Chicago.

Of course, there are many more books about the Fields and their store, most at Harold Washington Library Center on reference. If these books spark your interest, please come and see us!

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