Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Age Of Desire by Jennie Fields

The Age Of Desire opens in Paris.  Edith Wharton, who has just written The House Of Mirth, is attending a literary salon.  Her eyes are drawn to a newcomer, a man named Morton Fullerton.  He is charismatic, compelling, and draws the attention of men and women alike.  For some reason, he seems attracted to Edith, a position a married woman in her forties is not used to.  Especially one such as Edith, who has lived her life married to a man whom she has, at best, a friendship with, no love or passion. 

The book follows the unfolding of several related tales.  There is the lifelong friendship between Edith and her governess, Anna, who stayed on with her for life, serving as her secretary and first reader.  There is the thread of Teddy Wharton, who becomes mentally ill as the book progresses, leading to constant worry.  Then there is the love affair that blossoms between Wharton and Fullerton, where Edith learns to love and the joy of sexual bliss for the first time in her life.

Jennie Fields has written a compelling book about Wharton, who is a familiar figure in American literature, one of the first successful American women authors.  It is a portrait of the life of an upper class woman, who winters in Paris and spends the summer on a palatial American estate, who is friends with Henry James and other famous individuals of her time.  The book follows the facts of Wharton's life faithfully, and as Fullerton refused to destroy Edith's letters, even has the validity of including those private thoughts from her.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction, and those interested in life in the upper echelons of American society, the American Downton Abbey. 

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