The Age of Desire is a snapshot into the lives of Edith Wharton and her loyal secretary Anna Bahlmann during the years of Wharton’s relationship with Morton Fullerton. Set against the backdrop of Paris (starting around 1908/1909 ish),The Age of Desire is less a novel about Edith Wharton and for me, more a story about the complexities of friendship between women and men. It captures a lot of what I’d imagine relationships and changing perspectives/expectation around gender to be like back around the turn of the century, without being stereotypical or overly trite.
While I am not a Wharton scholar, so I can’t say whether this fictionalization is an accurate portrayl of her life, I did enjoy getting to know the version of Edith that Fields creates on paper. Like many of the characters we find her novel, she is not always likeable, complex, but relatable. The same goes for Anna, who can be just as frustrating as Edith. The ancillary characters are equally as enjoyable (except for maybe Edith’s husband who I don’t think is meant to be truly liked).
Love that there is lots of travel depicted in this book, and Fields describes and conveys each locale in a way that is comprehensive but not exhausting. My one real qualm would be, if anything, there is too much back and forth between The Mount (the Wharton’s US country home), NYC and Paris… but maybe I’m just jealous of their lifestyle. By the end of this almost 400 page novel I was ready for things to wrap up. Not keen for it to finish, but curious to see how it was all going to play out.
Nit-picky spoiler (highlight the text below to read): Wish the editor had been a little bit more like the eagle-eyed Bahlmann and recommended Fields use some variety when trying to convey two legs touching under a table (which seems to happen a lot in this book), than “I could feel the pressure of his leg against mine.” I think I read that phrase at least 10 times.
Available from Amazon.com, or the New York Public Library, which is where I got my copy from.
Any other good historical fiction works from the last few years I should check out?
xo The Book Bird