Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge
Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2007, 2012
With this biography of Henry “Harry” Gordon Selfridge the reader is taken along a journey of transformation in not just shopping but that of society and media in the early quarter of the 20th Century. In 1909 when Selfridges Department Store opened on Oxford Street, London, Selfridge set many societal changes in motion – opening shopping up as a pleasurable experience, welcoming one and all into his store (not just the elite), employing more women than men, the use of up-to-the-minute technology, bold advertisements, and the additions of restaurants and ladies restrooms within the store. He was bold and extravagant in both his store and his life-style. A man of boundless energy, he was intimately involved in the business of the store until he was ousted by the Board of Directors in 1939. During those 30 years Selfridge made and lost a fortune, driving his store to the brink of bankruptcy with his gambling debts and many, many gifts to his many, many mistresses. As addicted to work as he was, he was also addicted to luxurious living, gambling and women and more than one gambler and woman took him for a financial ride. When he finally died in 1947 at the age of 91, he was destitute and buried in a modest grave next to his beloved wife and mother.
The author has extensively researched not only the history of Selfridge but that of the customs and morays of London during the early 20th Century. She covers not only shopping, but the short-lived Edwardian Era, travails of WW1, the wild and glorious Flapper Era to the economic downturn of the 30’s into WW2. In short, it’s a concise history of early modern England that is easy to read and never boring (well, almost never; I did nod off in a few places while she droned on about economics). But for the most part it’s a good read, fleshing out the man behind the PBS series, Mr. Selfridge.
Reviewed by Debby
This review also published on Library of Cats under the non de plume of Jack.