Jaylia3's Reviews > The Age of Desire

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields
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Jul 04, 12


In her memoir Edith Wharton doesn’t mention Anna Bahlmann, a devoted servant who started out as her governess but who continued to play a prominent role as Edith grew older by becoming her companion and literary secretary. This novel explores some of the very personal stories Edith left out of the memoir but used as inspiration for her own novels and poetry. Written from both Edith’s and Anna’s points of view, The Age of Desire imagines their lives during the trying period when middle-aged, unhappily married Edith is passionately in love with the charming but capricious Morton Fullerton.

The Age of Desire incorporates excerpts from Edith’s actual diaries and letters she wrote to Fullerton that he was supposed to destroy but didn’t. It captures the swings of bliss and despair Edith felt as she dealt with her increasingly mentally ill husband and the lover who awakened new worlds for her but couldn’t be relied upon. Author Jennie Field was also able to make use of the 135 letters from Edith to Anna that were discovered in 2009. Those letters and interviews with Anna’s great-grandniece helped Field create an Anna character who felt plausible to me, with complex feelings and motivations. Anna’s part of the narrative shows the events from her troubled but loyal perspective and through her the reader sees something of what a servant’s life was like during an age of aristocrats.

I have the thick biography of Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee, a wonderful book that I’ve dipped into but haven’t managed to finish. This novel is more accessible, a sort of Edith Wharton lite, though its treatment of her life is thoughtful and nuanced, not superficial. As an added plus, the reader is treated to literary salon tête-à-têtes, an aging but still eloquent Henry James, and the grit and glamour of Gilded Age Paris.
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