What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age

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9780451466716: What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age

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.

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About the Author:

Renée Rosen is the author of Dollface and the young adult novel, Every Crooked Pot. She lives in Chicago where she is at work on a new novel.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ALSO BY RENÉE ROSEN

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER ONE

1871

She supposed she fell in love with him at the same time the rest of Chicago did. The Great Fire had raged on for two days, and the flames didn’t discriminate: they devoured businesses and residences, mansions and shanties alike. In the end, miles of streets and buildings were ravaged. But from this smoldering ash, a handful of men came forward to rebuild the city. Marshall Field was one of them.

The day before the fire started, seventeen-year-old Delia Spencer was walking down State Street in search of hair combs needed to complete an outfit for a party the following evening. She was strolling along when her heel got caught in a loose plank on the wooden sidewalk. Oblivious to the throng of horse-drawn cars, wagons and coaches rumbling by, she worked to free her boot. It was only the train whistle, from several blocks over, that seized her attention. She could feel the ground juddering as the locomotive barreled through town, coughing clouds of black, oily smoke. The soot remained after the train passed, clinging to the facades of the restaurants, tearooms and dime museums. Even the Nicholson paved roads were covered in a thin coating of locomotive residue.

She was moving again, and in the time it took her to walk less than a city block, half a dozen peddlers selling everything from chicken feet to slabs of lard tallow soap approached her. She crossed the street to get away from them, lifting her hem and watching her step to avoid the road apples left behind by the horses.

The whirl of chaos surrounding her reminded Delia of the time her relatives from Boston had come to visit, telling their friends and neighbors that they were going to a trading post out west. They’d been appalled by the fetid smells of the Chicago River and said that the city was a noisy, vile, dangerous place. But Delia argued that no other city could boast a three-tiered fountain like the one in Courthouse Square or the marble and limestone buildings along State Street that stood four and five stories high. She couldn’t imagine a more vibrant place to call home. The city was barely thirty years old and it was changing all the time, maturing, ripening with each new day. Her father was fond of saying that Chicago was coming into its own in 1871.

“The clover is upon us now,” he’d said to her just days before the fire as Delia had stood with him on their velvet green lawn that their gardener faithfully watered each day to combat the months of drought. “Yes, indeed,” her father had said again, “we’re in the clover now.”

Mr. Spencer was a proud Chicagoan and one of the men who’d built up the city in the very beginning, long before the boom began.

“When we moved here back in ’54, we were pioneers,” he’d told her. “You weren’t even a year old. There was a cholera outbreak that year and everyone—including your mother—thought I’d lost my mind, moving my family to this desolate place. They said Chicago was uninhabitable. And they weren’t entirely wrong,” he’d chuckled. “The roads were nothing but dirt and mud. Thickets of weeds were everywhere. The city was full of nothing but cottages and shacks. There were miles of marshland all around, and if people think it smells bad now, they should have been here back then. Hard as you tried, you couldn’t get away from the stench of sewer water.”

Standing next to him on their lawn, she’d followed the line of her father’s gaze toward the downtown horizon. “Didn’t you tell me once that you found fish in your drinking water?”

He’d smiled, giving her a nod. “You’d fill up your basin and there’d be fish this big”—he held his fingers an inch apart—“flipping and flopping right before your eyes.”

Delia had laughed. “Why did you want us to live here back then?”

“Because I saw promise in Chicago. I knew this swampland in the middle of the country was going to be the key to prosperity. This city has waterways and railroads, and we’re smack in the center of everything. I knew if anything worthwhile was going to happen in this country, it was going to have to go through Chicago.”

Her father had been right. Delia found it hard to believe that just twenty years before the Spencers arrived, Chicago had been a fur trading post, home to the Indians and just four thousand brave pioneers. Since then the Potawatomi had been replaced by more than ninety thousand intruders, come to seek their fortunes.

When Delia arrived at Lake Street and Wabash Avenue, a horse-drawn streetcar let dozens of riders off in front of a group of dry goods stores—one of which belonged to Delia’s father. Hibbard, Spencer & Company stood three stories proud, dwarfing the blacksmith, the umbrella repair shop, the cordage shop and the other merchants surrounding it.

Delia went inside and wandered up and down the aisles, letting her fingertips graze the different bolts of brocades, chambrays and gossamers piled one on top of the other. She lost herself among the white and yellow beeswax candles and spiced soaps when her father called to her.

“What a surprise. What are you looking for, Dell?” He removed his spectacles and gave them a polish on the bottom of his waistcoat.

“Hair combs.”

“Well,” he said with a laugh, “you won’t find them in this aisle.”

“I know, I know. I can’t help it, I got distracted.”

As a young girl, before her mother taught her to know a woman’s place, Delia had spent many an afternoon down at Hibbard, Spencer, hoisted up on the counter, watching her father ring up all the sales. Oh, how she loved the sound of the till each time the cash drawer sprang open. She had wanted to become a merchant like her father. She wasn’t afraid of hard work, or put off by the responsibility. She wanted the satisfaction of making her own way and had even thought of taking over her father’s business someday. But she was a girl and a Spencer girl at that. She grew up on the exclusive Terrace Row, in a rusticated stone block home with a majestic mansard roof and dozens of servants. She’d studied piano and dance and had attended the city’s finest finishing school. Her mother wouldn’t even allow her to take painting classes at the Academy of Design, let alone work in a dry goods store. No, her only job was to find a suitable husband and raise his children.

•   •   •

The night the fire started, on October 8, 1871, Delia was getting ready for Bertha and Potter Palmers’ party in celebration of the opening of their new hotel, the Palmer House. Sitting at her vanity, she gazed into the looking glass while her maid pinned her long brown hair and fastened it with the sterling hair comb she’d purchased the day before. This was the first party Delia would attend after having been formally introduced to society in September, and she wanted to make a good impression. She chose an emerald gown with forest green velvet ruches and beading along the bodice. It had been designed for her by Emile Pingat on her last trip to Paris the summer before.

“Quit your dillydallying,” Abby said, standing in the doorway.

“Don’t you worry, Augustus will still be at the party when you get there.”

Delia saw her sister’s cheeks flush at the mention of her beau. “It’s not Augustus I’m worried about. It’s Mother.”

“Oh, she must be seething down there,” Delia said as the maid gathered her long train and fastened it to the hook at her waistline.

“You know how she is about being prompt.” Abby stepped closer to the looking glass and adjusted the bow atop her curls, which their maid had styled for her before reporting to Delia’s room.

Abby was four years older than Delia. Her piercing blue eyes and light blond hair came from her mother, whereas Delia’s dark coloring belonged to the Spencer side of the family. After studying themselves in the cheval mirror one last time, the girls went downstairs to join their mother at the foot of the staircase. Her mother’s hand was gripping the banister and Delia just knew her fingertips must have long since turned white inside her gloves.

Mrs. Spencer raised her hand and summoned her girls to her side. “Come now. Your father has the coach waiting out front.”

It was half past eight on a Sunday evening. There was a chill in the air accompanied by fierce winds that whipped around their carriage. Delia noticed that even the gaslights, protected by glass domes, flickered from the wind’s force.

They were nearing State and Jackson when they first heard the alarm bells sounding from the courthouse tower. Delia peered out the carriage window but saw nothing.

“Not again,” her mother said as she adjusted her hat. It was the fourth time that week that the fire alarms had sounded.

“It’s to be expected,” said her father. “After all, we haven’t seen a drop of rain since July.”

“Look,” said Abby, pointing toward the west.

Delia turned and saw a sweep of red and yellow on the horizon, rolling in like waves on the lakefront. It seemed ominous to her, but her father didn’t appear concerned, so she pushed her misgivings aside and shifted her thoughts to the coming party.

Bertha had been telling Delia and her sister about the hotel’s grand opening celebration for weeks. Bertha and Abby were both twenty-one and had been friends for years. Being younger, Delia had always tagged along, the unwelcome shadow. But this past year the awkwardness of their age difference seemed to have vanished. In fact, many now mistook Delia for the older sister, and in recent months, she’d become closer to Bertha, even closer to her than was Abby.

Age obviously didn’t matter to Bertha, who had married a man twenty-three years her senior. And what would the richest man in Chicago give his young bride as a wedding present? If you were Potter, you’d give her a hotel with your name on it. It seemed like an odd choice to Delia, but the Palmer House was spectacular. Even the smallest guest rooms started at three dollars a night.

The Palmer House had opened its doors less than two weeks earlier and everyone had been looking forward to the grand opening party. As the Spencers made their way around the corner, Delia saw the finest carriages in the city lined up out front.

A uniformed doorman, imposing as a statue, greeted them, while another uniformed man inside helped the women off with their manteaus. Entering the lobby, Delia paused in the rotunda, eyeing the oversize chandeliers. The stenciled ceiling was breathtaking and the plush royal blue Axminster carpeting seemed to swallow her footsteps whole. At last she got to see the Carrara marble that Bertha had been talking about and wherever she turned she saw gold—gold trim on the portrait frames, along the wainscoting, the moldings, the winding staircase banister and the glowing wall sconces.

The ballroom on the second floor was even more elegant with high-buffed marble floors that reflected every image from above. Delia guessed there must have been close to two hundred people in the ballroom and yet Augustus Eddy had no difficulty finding Abby and sweeping her onto the dance floor.

Augustus had been courting Abby for the past three months, which pleased Delia’s parents. He was a good prospect for her sister. At just twenty-four Augustus was the youngest director the Rock Island Railroad had ever had. He was also the youngest man Delia had ever known to wear a monocle. She thought perhaps he did this to offset his boyish face, round and seemingly full of innocence.

Delia remained with her parents, though she lagged a bit behind, testing her independence and very much aware of the newspapermen eyeing her and jotting down notes on their tablets. Abby had been mentioned countless times in the papers over the past several years and now it was Delia who was about to capture the reporters’ attention. For as far back as she could remember, her mother had stressed the importance of fashion. The Spencer girls, as they were known, made annual fall visits to Europe for their wardrobe consultations and fittings. For years Delia and her sister had been known for their sense of style.

With a cool eye, she observed the women who no doubt were still wearing last year’s pannier crinolines beneath their bejeweled bustled gowns. They were each an elegant statement, but a statement of the past. They had unwittingly passed the fashion baton to the younger generation of women such as herself, and Delia wondered if they were even aware of this as they sipped champagne and sherry. She drifted on, passing before a group of men drinking brandies and talking business. All around her handsome couples glided about the dance floor to the music of a twenty-piece orchestra. Delia watched her sister and Augustus waltz, twirling and spinning, wondering when her turn would come.

While the orchestra played on, Delia smiled, thinking that this was the world she’d been groomed for and at last she was old enough to embrace it. She loved everything about the party—the music, the glowing candles on the tables, the scent of fresh flowers in the air, even the Negro servers balancing sterling silver trays of hors d’oeuvres upon their white-gloved palms.

In the center of it all, Potter and Bertha mingled with their guests. Potter, in a white jacket and tie, paled alongside Bertha in her satin ruby-colored ball gown adorned with silk floss and metallic lace. The diamonds in her tiara sparkled each time she moved. Delia would have guessed she was wearing ten pounds of jewelry that night.

“Come,” Bertha said, as she looped her arm through Delia’s, whisking her along. “Let me introduce you around.”

Delia met so many people she could scarcely keep the names and faces straight—except for one.

“Mr. Marshall Field,” Bertha said with a sweep of her hand, “may I present Miss Delia Spencer.”

“Charmed.” The elegantly dressed dry goods merchant leaned forward and kissed her hand. “You wouldn’t by chance be related to the Spencer of Hibbard & Spencer, would you?”

“I would indeed,” she said. “Franklin Spencer is my father. And please don’t tell him this, but I’m a great fan of Field, Leiter & Company.”

He laughed. “Obviously you’re a young lady with impeccable taste.”

She smiled, feeling very grown-up and glamorous. Being a Spencer, Delia had met plenty of important figures, but something about Mr. Field intrigued her, though she couldn’t say why. He stood bandy-legged with his right hand parked in his jacket pocket like he was posing for a portrait. And he was impossibly too old for her. Judging by the hint of gray at his temples, she guessed he was nearly twice her age. Delia preferred fair-haired men and Mr. Field had dark brown hair and an even darker mustache, bushy and in need of a trim. But he did have captivating blue gray eyes. That he did. Bertha excused herself to tend to her other guests, and while Delia continued talking with Mr. Field, she noticed that he wasn’t wearing a wedding band.

“Shall we see what all the commotion is about?” He motioned toward the crowd that had assembled near the windows, stepping aside so that she could precede him.

Delia looked for her parents and Abby as more people squeezed in to look out the windows, watching what was growing into a raging fire in the southwest. Delia heard the alarm bells ring again as the partygoers oohed and aahed over the flaring flames in the distance. It was as if they were watching a fireworks display.

“I’ve never understood the morbid fascination with other people’s mis...

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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780451466716

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