Review of Age of Desire by Jennie Fields

For fans of The Paris Wife, a sparkling glimpse into the life of Edith Wharton and the scandalous love affair that threatened her closest friendship

They say behind every great man is a woman. Behind Edith Wharton, there was Anna Bahlmann—her governess turned literary secretary, and her mothering, nurturing friend.

When at the age of forty-five, Edith falls passionately in love with a dashing younger journalist, Morton Fullerton, and is at last opened to the world of the sensual, it threatens everything certain in her life but especially her abiding friendship with Anna. As Edith’s marriage crumbles and Anna’s disapproval threatens to shatter their lifelong bond, the women must face the fragility at the heart of all friendships.

Told through the points of view of both women, The Age of Desire takes us on a vivid journey through Wharton’s early Gilded Age world: Paris with its glamorous literary salons and dark secret cafés, the Whartons’ elegant house in Lenox, Massachusetts, and Henry James’s manse in Rye, England.

Edith’s real letters and intimate diary entries are woven throughout the book. The Age of Desire brings to life one of literature’s most beloved writers, whose own story was as complex and nuanced as that of any of the heroines she created.

My review:

Most of us have read the tragic story of Ethan Frome, and perhaps The House of Mirth, or The Age of Innocence – but what is the story behind woman who wrote these classic novels?

Edith Wharton was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, and designer, whose life was anything but perfect. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she falls for a young journalist named Morton Fullerton. But as the two spend increasingly more time together, Edith’s husband Teddy becomes more and more mentally and emotionally unstable. Edith’s answer to his problems is to send him away, so that she can spend more time with Morton- to the dismay of her longtime friend and secretary, Anna.

Edith thought she had finally found true love, but the more time she spends with Morton, the less certain she is about his feelings toward her. On top of it all, Teddy’s condition continues to get worse, and her relationship with the disapproving Anna is strained. In the midst of it all, Edith wonders if she will ever find happiness, or if she is doomed to be miserable and alone forever.

When I was in 6th grade, I read the book Ethan Frome, and to be honest, I really didn’t like it. A married man cheats on his sick wife, who he’s supposed to love and be caring for, and with her nurse of all people. Then, as they decide to run away together (and abandon his poor bed-ridden wife) they are permanently maimed in a sledding accident? Terrible. So the thought of a novel about the author of such a depressing book didn’t really excite me- but pretty soon, I found myself two-thirds of the way through the book, reading as fast as I could, eager to see what would happen next. In despite of it all, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit for Edith, even though I also despised her for how selfish her actions seemed to be. I absolutely adored poor Anna, Edith’s childhood governess who was so attached to Edith that she loyally remained by her side as her personal secretary. Though she personally disapproved of Edith’s affair, she never wavered in her love for her, and never questioned her devotion to her friend, even to the point of sacrificing her own happiness.

This book was beautiful and tragic, all at the same time. Jennie Field’s writing style is absolutely flawless, and manages to put a human face on a woman who’s story might never have been told in such an honest manner- laid bare for all to see it as it may have truly been. I fully recommend it!

Rating: 4 stars


Recommended for: –as a warning, this book contains graphic adult content, and is not appropriate for children.

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