In The Hatmaker’s Heart by Carla Stewart, Nell Marchwold is an apprentice designer at Oscar Fields Millinery in 1920 New York City. Nell loves to make hats that frame a woman’s face and bring out her best features.
But Nell speaks with a lisp when she’s flustered, so Mr. Fields has kept her in the background—until one of his best clients falls in love with Nell’s designs. The prestigious Mrs. Benchley wants to commission Nell to make hats for herself and her two daughters for an upcoming event.
Then another well-known designer wants to use Nell’s talents for a show he is putting together.
Mr. Fields allows Nell to work on these other projects, but under the auspices of his shop. He’s two-faced, promoting her in public but treating her like dirt in private.
When Nell and Mr. Fields have an opportunity to go to London, Nell seeks a chance to visit her grandmother and a childhood friend, Quentin. Nell realizes she loves Quentin, but he seems to have moved on. And Mr. Fields is not giving her much time to spend with other people.
It’s hard to imagine that Nell just keeps taking what Mr. Fields is dishing out. But then, she’s young and naive. A big part of her character development is becoming her own person, deciding what she truly wants, and developing the backbone to stand up for it. Nell’s grandmother’s counsel reminds her to seek the Lord and walk with Him.
The book’s setting was interesting with the details about hatmaking. I had done just a tiny bit of that when working for a florist friend part time years ago, but we mostly just decorated hat forms. We didn’t make them from scratch like they did in the 1920s. And I never would have suspected that hat designs could be such a cutthroat business. But I guess they were a big enough fashion item in the day for designers to compete for their sales and designs.
A friend recommended a counselor to Nell to deal with her stammer. I wondered if his methods were true to the times–concluding that the stammer was related to a childhood trauma, having Nell remember specific incidents and draw pictures of them.
Quentin didn’t seem terribly well developed as a character. Since he and Nell were apart for most of the book, we really didn’t get a feel for any chemistry between them. Plus he seemed to have abrupt changes of heart in a couple of places.
So, I have mixed responses to the book. But overall it’s a good story.
Thank you for this review!
I enjoyed your review, Barbara. This is an interesting premise for a story. I know very little about hat making, but covered and decorated a hat for a wedding years ago. There’s definitely an art to it.
I enjoy stories about industries, or eras, or locales that are unfamiliar to me and I don’t know a darn thing about hat making. Good review.
Terrie @ Bookshelf JOurneys
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The 1920s New York sounds like a really great setting
Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
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