Why Join?

  • Add New Books

  • Write a Review

  • Backpack Reading Lists

  • Newsletter Updates

Join Now

Novel set early 20th Century, mainly in NEW YORK

25th September 2023

A Beautiful Rival by Gill Paul, novel set early 20th Century, mainly in New York.

Novel set early 20th Century, mainly in NEW YORK

Elizabeth Arden and Helen Rubinstein have always had prominence in any beauty department, perhaps with Elizabeth Arden now having the edge. This is the story behind the creation and development of each brand and how each evolved under the leadership of one woman. These were two women operating at the same time, in a man’s world, determined to succeed and out-do the other.

Elizabeth Arden (born as Florence Nightingale Graham) came from a very poor farming background, and Helena Rubinstein came from Poland, having been banished from her parents’ door for not agreeing to marry the man chosen for her. She was also Jewish and even in New York, when she arrived, there was discrimination and anti-Jewish sentiment, which at times proved to be a stumbling block to her enterprise – but determination and stoicism won out.

Buy Now


Novel set early 20th Century, mainly in NEW YORKThe women run parallel enterprises, each taking a slightly different tack, each holding a singular vision about the development of her own company, determined to hold onto the reins and maintain control. Expansion across the United States and into Europe ensued, each travelling back and forth between business venues, whilst managing her personal life. Helena had a family, Elizabeth married but never chose to have children. Husbands came and went, fortunes rose and dipped like a rollercoaster against the backdrop of the financial collapse and WW2. Both women resorted to underhand methods to stymie the growth of the rival, as they vied for the lion’s share of the market. Staff members were poached, spies were employed, and rumours were egregiously circulated. This was competition at its most ruthless.

I loved the detail of the dress codes and etiquette that was colourfully brought to life – diamonds worn before the evening was considered vulgar; skin care products – made with herbs from Poland in Helena’s case – were the heart of the industry, the move on to produce and sell make up only came later. Elizabeth’s Eight Hour Cream was fundamental to her range (as was the branding of The Red Door, which is still part of today’s offering) and she used it at her stable of horses, massaging the hooves so they wouldn’t split. All delicious detail, beautifully incorporated into the narrative.

The chapters are told alternately from each woman’s perspective and, on occasion, the story is so compelling told that you loose the thread of whose story is actually being told. But that is perhaps a device to demonstrate how enmeshed their lives actually were – even if they strove to avoid each other and in real life never met (although the author brings them together for a fictional meeting, which works well in the narrative).

The author has clearly carried out meticulous research and has included fictional elements to make this a very engaging read, that is strong on time and place. Ironically the companies have now been sold to large conglomerates, to wit L’Oréal (Helena Rubinstein) and Revlon (Elizabeth Arden) but this novel brings to life the stories of the women behind the brands.

Buy Now


Tina for the TripFiction Team

Catch the author on Twitter @GillPaulAUTHOR

Join team TripFiction on Social Media:

Twitter (@TripFiction), Facebook (@TripFiction.Literarywanderlust), YouTube (TripFiction #Literarywanderlust), Instagram (@TripFiction) and Pinterest (@TripFiction) and BlueSky(tripfiction.bsky.social)

Subscribe to future blog posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *