Thursday, August 02, 2012

A short review of Jennie Fields' The Age of Desire

August is here at last!  Over the last few months, I've been busy reviewing eight historical novels scheduled to come out in August.  While I don't often repost previously published material, I want to highlight some of these books here as their publication dates roll byincluding Jennie Fields' new novel The Age of Desire, literary biographical fiction about Edith Wharton's mid-life love affair, and how it affected her relationship with her closest friend.

The reviews I write for Booklist are exercises in concise writing; I have a limit of 175-200 words.

Edith Wharton lived in the glittering world of the moneyed elite she wrote about, although she never experienced her characters’ lustful motivations herself until she met American journalist Morton Fullerton. Fields bases her perceptive novel on Wharton’s own diaries and letters.  By 1907, Edith is tired of husband Teddy’s gaucheness and depressive episodes and succumbs to the charms of Fullerton, whom she encounters at a French dinner party. It’s hard not to pity herhe is obviously a cadbut she displays a touching vulnerability, opening herself to passion for the first time at 45, and her anguish at Fullerton’s inconstancy is deeply felt.  Readers also observe them from the viewpoint of Anna Bahlmann, the literary secretary and longtime friend Edith sometimes carelessly takes for granted. Gentle Anna doesn’t approve of the affair, which drives her and Edith apart for a time.  While the novel concentrates more on the emotional than the intellectual sphere, it sheds welcome light on the little-known private life of a famous woman and her closest relationships in early-twentieth-century Europe and America.

For two more (slightly longer) takes on the novel, see the Historical Novels Review and Unabridged Chick.

The Age of Desire is published in August 2012 by Pamela Dorman/Viking in hardcover (352pp, $27.95).  In the UK, the publisher is Ebury Press. My review first published in Booklist's July 2012 issue; reprinted with permission.


  1. I have mixed feelings on it. It should be a fascinating subject but I'd like to see it given some depths, examining the limitations on even a woman of Wharton's prominence and how this affected her place in the literary sphere. It sounds a bit too much like the typical romance with a dressing of historicity. But reading about the fascinating Wharton...

    I guess I need to take a look. :)

    1. This book focuses on her interpersonal relationships more so than her writing or her place in the literary world (although she's depicted as a very successful writer whose status remained unaffected by the goings-on in the novel). It's not a typical romance at all, and I'd hesitate to even call it a romance, actually. Fullerton is manipulative, and their relationship is complex and often uncomfortable to read about. My review is too short to go into all the details, but check out Audra's take at Unabridged Chick and see what you think :)