“The saleswoman looked at her without replying, with an air of disdain for her shabby dress, then turning to one of her friends, a short girl with a sickly white skin and an innocent and disgusted appearance, …” (Ch. II, p.50)
The book depicts the coming of Paris department store in the 1860s. The ambitious man is one Octave Mouret who, poised for commercial recklessness, wants to open an emporium of women at the expense of small businesses. It’s like the big box stores in the United States eating up all the local small shops by lowering the prices. He also exploits the desire that his luxuriantly displayed merchandise arouses in the ladies who shop, and the aspirations of the young female assistants he employs.
It reads like an allegory backed by strong social commentary. Denise is the poverty-stricken orphan girl with two younger brothers in tow. She toiled and struggled, chanced upon employment at Ladies’ Paradise, where she enchanted Mouret with her loveliness. This book, with frequent elaborate descriptions of store displays, explores the viperous world of ladies’ retail and the nascent capitalist machine.