The Age of Desire

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Overview

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...

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The Age of Desire

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Fields’s delicate and imaginative fourth novel (after Crossing Brooklyn Ferry), Edith Wharton struggles with the passion she feels for Morton Fullerton. Trapped in an unhappy marriage to the increasingly erratic manic-depressive Teddy, Edith is both fascinated and frightened by Morton’s push-pull flirtations, his attentions tapping into parts of her she didn’t know existed, since conjugal relations with Teddy have always been unpleasant. Edith’s former governess Anna, now her friend, confidant, and secretary, is worried about Edith’s susceptibility to Morton’s flattery, and draws closer to Teddy, whom she believes Edith treats unfairly. As Edith gets more involved with Morton, she sends Anna off to explore her own life, a “gift” that means she won’t have to face her friend’s disapproval. The layered dynamics of these characters add texture to scenes ranging in setting from London to Paris to The Mount in Lenox, locations that either compliment or contrast with what unfolds. The book’s only flaw is the choice of present tense, which draws unwanted attention to the time period and pushes readers out just when they should be pulled in. Still, Fields’s love and respect for all her characters and her care in telling their stories shines through. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (Aug. 6)
Library Journal
Fields's (The Middle Ages) fourth novel finds a middle-aged Edith Wharton discovering physical passion for the first time as she embarks on an adulterous affair with a charismatic younger journalist. Their increasingly tempestuous relationship has unexpected consequences; it tests Edith's long-time friendship with Anna Bahlmann, her governess turned personal secretary, who has sacrificed her own chances for romantic love and a family of her own for the sake of Edith and her husband, Teddy. Fields supplements the story with fascinating excerpts from Wharton's actual letters and includes appearances by other authors of the period, including Henry James and Paul Bourget, to re-create the exciting literary landscape of Paris and New York in the first decade of the 20th century. VERDICT Readers may find it hard to sympathize with the perpetually self-obsessed Edith, whose callousness toward her ailing husband is particularly difficult to excuse, but the novel should nonetheless appeal to those who enjoyed Paula McLain's The Paris Wife or other stories focusing on the stormy romantic lives of creative people from past eras.—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
Joining the burgeoning genre of novels concerning famous people's unknown subordinates, Fields (The Middle Ages, 2003, etc.) offers a fictionalized account of Edith Wharton's troubled love life in large part through the eyes of her former governess and lifelong secretary, Anna Bahlmann. By age 45, Edith has found literary success with the publication of The House of Mirth, but is miserably unhappy in a sexless, lifeless marriage. Teddy Wharton is a simple man, totally unsuited to Edith, although 60-year-old Anna has always admired and been secretly a little in love with him herself. During their annual winter in Paris in 1908, Edith meets and falls headlong in love with Morton Fullerton, a Harvard-educated journalist. More than one literary acquaintance warns Edith that Morton has a licentious reputation--that he has been one of Henry James' "favorites" should be warning enough--but Edith, elated by her new sense of herself as a desirable woman, pursues Morton as much as he pursues her. Witnessing the growing infatuation, Anna is torn between her devotion to Edith and her loyalty to Teddy, who sinks into a severe depression, a harbinger of the madness to come. Anna's moral disapproval irritates Edith's own guilty discomfort, and she sends Anna temporarily away. With Morton, Edith discovers sexual passion (in some excellent erotic writing) but is frustrated by his emotional slipperiness. Meanwhile, Anna has her own, much quieter romantic adventure, although her first commitment remains with Edith. Fields does not simplify their relationship; they call themselves friends, but Edith often treats Anna as a servant, a role Anna accepts with a sanguinity modern women may not appreciate. As in life, fictional Anna never becomes more than a foil to the fictional powerhouse that is Edith. Teddy is a tragic figure, his basic decency eroded by Edith's understandable inability to appreciate him. Morton remains the mystery, neither his motives nor his charms made quite clear enough. One doesn't have to be an Edith Wharton fan to luxuriate in the Wharton-esque plotting and prose Fields so elegantly conjures.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670023684
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/2/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennie Fields

Jennie Fields received an MA in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is the author of the novels Lily Beach, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, and The Middle Ages. An Illinois native, she spent twenty-five years as an advertising creative director in New York and currently lives with her husband in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2012

    Troubling Portrait of Wharton

    I've taught college literature for over two decades and certainly have taught, and read, a lot of Wharton. "House of Mirth" and "Age of Innocence" are two of my favorite novels of all time--especially the latter. And while I have done my research into Wharton, I admit Fields' view, based on recently available letters and other research sources, is not really a flattering portrait of the great author. On a lesser note, the author's excessive stylistic habit of using exclamation points--after every other line on some pages it seems-- drove the writing teacher in me to distraction. It comes across as a terribly unsophisticated technique for such a sophisticated subject and approach.


    The cover is one of the most beautiful I have seen, and the impossibly chic circles Wharton lived in are great indulgences, but I found it nearly impossible to find any sympathy for her--despite being well aware of the confines women faced during that period and Wharton's later attempts to make amends (i.e. her humanitarian work during WWI). It is, intellectually, easy to understand Wharton's need to feel passion and sexuality after being trapped in a loveless marriage during a ridiculously confining era, but her actions and treatment of those who love her most--especially the unfathomingly loyal Anna--leaves me so cold I can't empathize, much, at all.

    {SOME SPOILERS} Wharton is depicted as a self-centered, selfish, intolerant, emotionally distant (often emotionally cruel) woman who probably helped (by her admission) her mentally fragile husband (perhaps bi-polar?) slide towards madness. Sexually obsessed with the weak, manipulative Morton Fullerton, she throws aside concern for anyone else--including Anna, the secretary and assistant who loved Wharton, like a mother, from the time Wharton was a child. She even leaves her husband's care largely to Anna--because Wharton just can't tolerant him or his illness.

    The novel is told through both women's perspectives and while Wharton is shown alternately ignoring and being cruel to Anna and Teddy Wharton for her wildly misguided pursuit of Morton and her own selfish interests (moving the entire household, including dogs, servants, furniture across the ocean multiple times a year on her whims of living wherever she wants, WHEN she wants), Anna remains loyal to a fault. I wanted to scream in frustration as Anna gave up her own possibilities of a better life (returning to family, a possible husband)--to remain with Wharton, who took Anna and her love for granted, when not ignoring or abusing that love.

    But Anna is a fascinating character--as infuriating in her loyalty to both Edith and Teddy as Edith is in her pathetic (and it REALLY is) desperation to win Fullerton--an equally pathetic, weak man, incapable of anything other than his hedonistic desires.

    If the bulk of this is to be taken as the general essence of these relationships (and with Fields' access to the letters and other sources it certainly implies that although tempered with some artistic license) then Edith Wharton does not appear to have deserved the overwhelming love both Anna, and in his own twisted way, Teddy Wharton, offered her. The whole thing left me sad and rather depressed--however, it also makes me keen to delve deeper into the realities (as much as we can know) of Wharton's tangled relationships. While this view won't stop my love for her work--it certainly adds a new perspective to the woman behind i

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Great Book!

    Edith Wharton is known for her classic books such as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. She lived in the Gilded Age where money and public status went hand in hand. Jennie Fields takes us back to that day and age through the eyes of Edith Wharton and her long time companion, Anna Bahlmann. The book covers the middle of Edith's life, her torrid affair with Morton Fullerton, and her lasting friendship with Anna. Though this book is fiction, it's based on actual events in Wharton's life.
    I have read a few of Wharton's work, but I knew little about her personal life. This book really opened the door to explore the author behind her books. Wharton became almost like a character in one of her novels. She found, for the first time, the pain and angst of being in love. However the friendship she has with Anna outshines everything else in this book. Anna had been with her almost her entire life. She served as Edith's governess, secretary, and confidant. From loneliness to heartbreak, the two woman relied on each other almost implicitly.
    This book is a definite To Read. Jennie Fields did a superb job in writing this book. I felt as though I were transported back in time to witness the life of Edith Wharton and Anna Bahlmann.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2012

    An exceptional read! The best books are the ones that you can't

    An exceptional read!
    The best books are the ones that you can't put down. Except to maybe toss the book across the room because the actions of one of the characters draws that kind of response. Sometimes there's even a character you'd like to take direct aim at with the book. And yet you're just as drawn to retrieving the book and continuing the story because . . . well, the story is THAT compelling. Such is THE AGE OF DESIRE. Author Jennie Fields offers a slice of writer Edith Wharton's life, seen through the eyes of both Wharton and her secretary, former governess, and devoted friend, Anna Bahlmann. And Fields does it with such deftly woven prose. This is simply a must read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 6, 2012

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    'The Age of Desire' is a work of literary fiction that chronicle

    'The Age of Desire' is a work of literary fiction that chronicles the inner life of American author Edith Wharton, her close friendship with a woman named Anna, and a scandalous love affair that threatens to destroy their bond. Being a current graduate student working on my degree in Literature, I jumped at the chance to read a book that detailed more of the private life of Wharton - one of America's greatest female writers.

    Fields did a impeccable job with her novel. Her writing style flowed effortlessly and I was transported back in time alongside Edith from the very first page. The descriptions of the time and the various settings of the novel were done in such a way that I could simply close my eyes and I could vividly imagine the scene unfolding around me.

    The characters in the book were very realistic and believable. They all had unique personalities and flaws that made them easy to identify with - I felt as if I knew them all personally, like I was taking part in the narrative myself. The author wrote the character of Wharton with such earnestness that even her mistakes and character flaws make the reader love her and sympathize with her. We feel her every emotion with intensity and vigor. All the characters are written with this amount of depth, so the heroine doesn't feel over-developed and the other characters are just as rounded, which I feel make the story all the more enchanting.

    The novel swept me away from the first page and didn't release it's hold until the last word. There aren't many times when a piece of literature makes a lasting impression on a reader, but this is one that I will be thinking and speaking about for a long time to come. Fields did a wonderful job bringing not only the past to life, but making an iconic American figure come alive before our very eyes. It is an enthralling look into history and a beautifully written piece of literary fiction. I highly recommend this novel to lovers of literary and historical fiction.

    Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Let me begin with saying, I love this cover! Well to be honest I

    Let me begin with saying, I love this cover! Well to be honest I have never read any of Edith Wharton's books. I do have one on my nook to be read down the road. I have to add I really enjoy reading books where real life people are fictionalized. I kinda feel like I get to know them a bit. Maybe it's just me being silly! If you do read this, do make sure to head over to the author, Jennie Fields website where she has the pictures of Edith, the men in her life, her book, and her home. This is one of my favorite eras to read about. I once toured the Vanderbilt mansion years ago and I have to say I had no idea people lived so utterly rich! I mean they had a gold ceiling! Anyway let me tell you about the book!




    Edith Wharton is married to Teddy, a man she never really seemed to be in love with--but happened to be very much in love with her. Even at an early age Edith seemed to be very much a woman who wanted to carve out her own space, be her own woman even if she didn't realize that is what she wanted. She seemed to push off men who seemed to challenge her a bit. The story begins when Edith is in her 40s. A time of her life where she knows who she is, she has had her own success and has suddenly realized she wants a more passionate life. A passion Teddy has not given her.




    At a party in Paris, Edith meets Morton Fullerton, a journalist. There is an immediate spark for Edith and she begins to realize he also feels it. They begin a scandalous affair, rousing a passion in Edith she never knew existed. While at the same time, her dear friend (once her governess and now her secretary), Anna is very much against this relationship. All this is going on while her husband as taken ill from a deep Depression. Edith presses forward with her obsession while casting off the ones who love her most.




    The story is mostly Edith, but rotate a bit with Anna's voice. There are also letters and diary entries (which I love to read).




    I found the story sort of hard to get into for awhile. There was this whole back and forth with very little forward movement. It didn't help that I really didn't care much for Edith. She came across so self centered. I really liked Anna and Teddy. For a long time I had harbored some secret hopes (I won't tell you what they were or if I was right!). Once the story picked up a bit, I found myself sad for Edith. She clearly had mother issues and Morton--ugh I really didn't like him the more I got to know him. In many ways the story made me sad.




    I will say Fields is a very talented writer! I could really visualize Edith's world, the people. I felt like I could see the richness of the time. I believe she wrote a very close to truth book about Edith and I think it would be interesting to read some non-fiction pieces to learn even more. I enjoyed the story more as it moved forward, but I think not really liking Edith makes it harder for me to say I enjoyed the book, if that makes any sense. I will say if you enjoy turn of the century stories this is one you should pick up, I would love to hear what you think of it.

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  • Posted August 21, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Needless to say, I found "The Age of Desire" completel

    Needless to say, I found "The Age of Desire" completely captivating. Edith Wharton is one of my favorite authors, and I wanted to know more about her, so tripping the fantasy seemed a good way to enjoy her life. Jennie Fields, I found is the perfect author for this voyage into Mrs. Warton's life because she seemed to climb into her persona with ease. I was mesmerized by this beautiful book.

    The novel was written in influence of the style of Mrs. Wharton's Age, I felt. There was a tightness to the writing and a certain flow to it that put me in mind of her writings, as well as that of Henry James. Mrs. Wharton, herself, was never far from being controlled in her emotions, and the novel itself was written in this tone. It created a setting for the story that held it true to the places and times the characters lived and loved.

    There is a tension in the love life of Edith and her journalist love interest that caused me to be in mind of my first loves. That push-pull of great passion with an uncertainty of the other's feelings. And, when the great love develops, there is the ever present desire never to be parted from him no matter what the cost. In Edith's life there was a cost but never one she wasn't willing to pay.

    Running in tandem to her affair with the journalist, Morton Fullerton, is the deep love/friendship connection she has with her secretary, Anna. This other love is beautifully and stealthily handled by Ms Fields, and is deeply moving. Her husband, Teddy, is the other link in the chain featured in the book. His life ran the borders of both these capable and beautiful women.

    I couldn't put this book down. It walked me through the life of Edith Wharton and her ever valuable "secretary" and best friend Anna, who was the help and assistant for her wonderful books. I loved that Ms Fields was so adept at capturing the spirit of the Age and of the primary characters. I felt I knew Mrs. Wharton better and came to understand her in a different way.

    You'll enjoy this novel. It's a serious book in many ways, as is any book that seeks to display the truth about its characters and provide a living, important storyline. Jennie Fields is a fabulous author; capable, interesting and worthy.

    I cannot say more than to highly recommend this sensuous, secretive novel to you!

    5 stars Deborah/The Bookish Dame

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2013

    ENJOYED!

    Good book. Makes me want to know more about Edith Wharton and to watch The Age of Innocece again!

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  • Posted November 11, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Review: "The Age of Desire" by Jennie Fields good hi


    Review:

    "The Age of Desire" by Jennie Fields good historical fiction novel read. This storyline main character was Edith Wharton that really kept you on a roller coaster ride. I didn't know whether to like her or not .... this just depends on what is going on at the time. Ms. Wharton employee... Anna was really some employee and best friend. I would love to have had her friendship!

    I do not want to ruin this novel for you but just saying it was a good novel that will keep you interest from the start till the finish however, sometimes I did become bored but I hung in there and it was worth it in the end.


    "The Age of Desire" was told from the point of view of two women in the early 1900's. One of the view points of Edith Wharton and the other from Anna, Edith's governess when growing up and on to now her personal secretary. You will have to pick up this novel to see the how, what and why of it all. Be ready for a beautiful atmosphere of this novel with 'the French Salons, parties in London, the gossipy people, the bourgeois lifestyle, and yes the sex.'

    If you are interested in a well written read, you have come to the right place for "The Age of Desire" will be recommend as a good read for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Fabulous Read!

    This book truly takes you into the mind of one of the past's greatest American writers. I t's an unexpectedly bold account of one woman's struggle to balance her duty as a wife in a loveless, sexless marriage with the newfound sexuality she discovers in an elicit but sometimes beautiful affair.

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  • Posted September 7, 2012

    The Age of Desire is bringing Edith Wharton alive to me! I've a

    The Age of Desire is bringing Edith Wharton alive to me! I've always liked to read Edith Wharton and now she's like a long departed sister. This book takes you into the heart and soul of Mrs. Wharton!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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