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.
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.