The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields. Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books (2012). Biographical/historical fiction. Hardcover. 352 pages. ISBN: 978-0-670-02368-4.
I fell in love with Edith Wharton’s writing in college when I took a summer class that focused on four women including Edith Wharton and Willa Cather, now two of my favorite authors. Interestingly I’ve failed to read any biographies on Edith Wharton, although I visited the Mount in Lenox and read Wharton’s autobiography A Backward Glance. I posted my find of a used copy of The Mother’s Recompense to Twitter and made acquaintance with Jennie Fields. How delighted I was to discover that The Age of Desire came out in August.
The Age of Desire imagines the details of the affair between the successful author and younger journalist Morton Fullerton which affected Edith’s relationship with her husband Teddy Wharton and her best friend, former governess and literary secretary Anna Bahlmann. The story is told through Edith’s and Anna’s eyes. This novel places the reader partly in an Edith Wharton novel and partly in her parlor. I didn’t want it to end. It’s well-researched through Fields’ access to letters from Edith Wharton to Anna and her lover Morton as well as other biographical materials. It sparkles with details from the Gilded Age.
Fields fills in the gaps with imagined scenes and conversations between Edith and Anna and Edith and Morton as Edith embarks on a late-blooming passionate affair at age 45. While Edith travels from her estate the Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts to her ex-pat lifestyle in Paris, her opulent lifestyle and literary and artistic friends fill the pages of this novel. Fields also provides wonderful information about the various novels that Edith Wharton’s working on at the time, such as The Fruit of the Tree and Custom of the Country—a real treat for bibliophiles and Edith Wharton fans. It’s fascinating to imagine how she developed characters and ideas. One of the best novels I’ve read this year, Fields deftly chronicles Edith’s heartbreaking journey for a handsome cad unworthy of her affections, heart and certainly her mind.
FTC Disclosure: I received this for review from the publisher.