The Age of Desire, by Jennie Fields (plus a giveaway!)
Hey-o! It’s another addition of the Unofficial Penguin Blogger Book Club, hosted by Janet, with Leah, Stephanie, and Jen joining in! This time, we’re reading and posting about The Age of Desire, by Jennie Fields, which is being released next week.
I was really excited about this book because I love Edith Wharton. I loved The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome, even if the latter did make me so angry as to want to shake the characters, but I mean that as a compliment. Her worlds are so complete, and her language is so crisp and precise. Reading her makes me want to be a better writer. Last October, I read a great compilation of lines from Edith about writing, and this was one of my favorites:
Perhaps more failures than one is aware of are due to this particular lack of proportion between the powers of vision and expression. At any rate, it is the cause of some painful struggles and arid dissatisfactions; and the only remedy is resolutely to abandon the larger field for the smaller field, to narrow one’s vision to one’s pencil, and do the small thing closely and deeply rather than the big thing loosely and superficially.
I love that: “the small thing closely.” Isn’t Edith great?
The Age of Desire (a title that I assume serves to contrast The Age of Innocence) takes place at the turn of the 20th century and tells the story of Edith’s love affair with William Morton Fullerton against the backdrop of her relationship with her former-governess-now-secretary, Anna Bahlmann, and her crumbling marriage to Teddy Wharton. I … do not take well to adultery stories. I had a rough time getting through Anna Karenina for book club, and as I was in the home stretch of this book, I commented to JG, “I don’t see how this can’t end tragically. This is like a much shorter Anna K.” But, then, Jennie Fields was writing about real people, and the real Edith Wharton did not come to a tragic end. But that’s where I struggled the most. Where was the line between fact and fiction in this novel about people who really lived? I felt like I needed little footnotes to indicate, “Psst! We are now back in Fact Land!”
In an interview, Fields mentions various events that occurred in history on which she based the rough timeline of the book. To my surprise, some accurate aspects of the narrative emerged without specific research. Fields says, “After I’d written most of the book, I found letters from Edith to others that said that Anna was a calming influence over Teddy on his worst days, the only one patient enough to sit with him, that he was asking for her – exactly as I had written it.”
Huh! How about that?
Historical accuracy aside, I found this book to be well-written and entertaining enough. I say “enough,” because, well, I found it a bit racy for my taste. But then, I am a delicate flower with the innocence of a dove (HAHA), so there is that. The juxtaposition of the tightly laced Victorian woman and an illicit affair has a sort of universal appeal, but I would have preferred more offstage treatment of the affair.
I enjoyed the view into Edith’s life: how she traveled from house to house in America, England, and Paris; how she basically had a life of leisure, supplemented by her income from writing; and how she had a loveless marriage that she felt compelled to enter. Reading The Age of Desire makes me want to find a good biography of Edith, just like reading American Wife prompted me to read a biography of Laura Bush. This novel helped remind me how much I love Edith. The House of Mirth, her novel that is mentioned throughout this story, is now on my reading list; I’m not sure how or why I missed that one. In any case, if you’re looking for an entertaining read, I think The Age of Desire is certainly worth a look. But if you haven’t read any Wharton books yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t wholeheartedly recommend The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome first.
Penguin is offering a free copy of The Age of Desire, and my copy is up for grabs, too (with bonus compulsive editing marks!), so 2 lucky commenters will win this book! This giveaway is open to US residents only, and I will need mailing addresses (no PO boxes, please) from both winners. Leave a comment on this post by Wednesday, August 8, and I will choose 2 winners randomly and notify them via e-mail. Good luck!
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