Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields

The Content Reader

My first book read for Paris in July 2015, is Jennie Fields' historical fiction about Edith Wharton, The Age of Desire. It is a fascinating read. I don't know much about her life and have only read The Age of Innocence a long time ago.  This book is a good incitement to read more about Edith Wharton and more of her books. When I read historical fiction, I also want to read a biography of the person in question. Last year I read, The Paris Wife (review here) by Paula McLain, about Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's first wife. I continued with Michael Reynolds' biography Hemingway, The Paris Years, (review here) reading it for Paris in July 2014. The biography confirmed that the historical fiction was very well done.

The Content ReaderThe book follows Edith Wharton through the years 1906-1910 with an epilogue in 1916. At this time Edith Wharton spent the winters in Paris with her husband and governess Anna, now her secretary, and the summers in "The Mount", the house she built and decorated in Lenox, Massachusetts. The marriage goes from bad to worse, partly due to the manic depression that Edward Wharton suffered from and partly because Edith never really loved him and is eager to pursue her own interests, in which he has no interest. Edith enjoyed her time in Paris with people sharing her interests in literature and art. She enjoyed visiting the saloons, made friends with people like Anna de Noailles, a Greek-Romanian princess and poet, living a free life in comparison to Edith Wharton. She was fascinated by her life style, from dressing to living.


Her life changes totally when she meets Morton Fullerton. She is in her mid-forties, lives in an unhappy and sex-less marriage, is a lady in total control of herself, have difficulties to let go.  That is also why she is fascinated by Anna de Noailles who seems to radiate lust for life. The introduction is done by their mutual friend Henry James and life will never again be the same. He was a charming man, with a reputation, a secret past. Working as a journalist for The Times he had spent most of his life in France.  Edith Wharton was warned not to get too involved with him, but once his charms had worked on her, there was no way back. He had everything she wanted in a man and said that he was her "ideal intellectual partner". She suffered a lot whenever she did not hear anything from him or he stayed away. She never really knew how he lived his life, and was aware that it was a passing affair, due to her being married and his illusive private life.  It is hinted the he favoured and attracted both men and women. He was the man though that opened up her own emotional life, and he remained the love of her life.

Anna de Noailles

"You know he and I have been nothing to each other for years but two yoked oxen. I'm sure there have been other women...I've accepted that."
"That's different."
"Is it? Why?"
"Women are more forgiving about such things."
"Are they indeed?"
"He thinks you couldn't have feelings for another man. You never have, have you?" Morton looks up at her with worried eyes.
"No," she says softly. "I never have. Never before you."
"Edith..."

The book took me back to Paris in the beginning of 19th century. I walked the streets with Edith Wharton and visited the saloons with her. I was being transferred to another time, and when you look up from the book, it takes you some time to adjust to the 21st century! That is probably why I like historical fiction so much. Jennie Fields has written a very interesting book about Edith Wharton's life, during some of the most turbulent years of her life. Paris is well described, as well as  The Mount and the life there. The problematic life with Edward is always lingering over her days and achievements. Somehow, I think she nevertheless, came out of the obsession with Morton Fullerton, as a stronger person and it might also have improved her as a writer.

"The first time I was able to read a book, I thought, This is what I want to do every day for the rest of my life," Morton says. "I lose myself in reading."
"I find myself in reading!" Edith says.
"I find myself in reading your books, I've gotten hold of "The Fruit of the Tree". When I am reading it, it is as though you are reading aloud to me. And I've ordered your short stories as well."

William Morton Fullerton
This book also contain many fascinating characters from her life. She had friends in many great names of the day. I discovered Anna de Noailles of which I would like to read more, as well as, of course, Morton Fullerton. At the time they were never 'officially' together, although people suspected that they had an affair. It was not until the 1980s that the affairs was confirmed, when their letters were published. The book hints about his busy, sometimes problematic life. It seemed he had a 'promiscuous' personality which prevented him from committing to a long lasting relationship. Reading about him on Wikipedia I found a reference to a biography by Marion Mainwaring, Mysteries of Paris: The Quest for Morton Fullerton.  I have already ordered this book and Hermione Lee's biography Edith Wharton. Looking forward reading both books.

I also bought some of Edith Wharton's books. I will re-read The Age of Innocence, for which she received the Pulitzer prize, the first woman to receive this prize. House of Mirth, The Reef and Ethan Frome will also be read. Anyone who has a favourite book of hers to recommend? What do you think of Edith Wharton?

8 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you liked this book so much. It certainly makes Edith Wharton human. Thank you for sharing it.

    Here's my Paris in July post.

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    1. It does. I guess she must have been human, but when you read about her, you think she had so much restraint on herself, it would be difficult to let go.

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  2. I would like to know more about Edith Wharton. I've only read one of her books, The Age of Innocence, but that time period always fascinates me.

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    1. I have only read 'Age of Innocence' as well. I will read some of her books. It will be much more interesting now when you have got a glimpse of her life.

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  3. Wow this sounds like the perfect read for me I have just added it to my list. I have not read Wharton but your post has tempted me, maybe I could read The age of desire and one of Wharton's books in conjunction. This is what I love about blogs, discovering new books that I might otherwise overlook.

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    1. Thank you Arabella, I am sure you will like it. It added so many people and events to her story, which made it even more interesting. Her friendship with Henry James for example, and with other famous writers of the day. I will re-read 'Age of Innocence' since I can't really remember it very well, and also some of her other books. It would be interesting to read her books before and after her affair with Fullerton.

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  4. Visiting The Mount is on my to-do list -- we have family not far from there. I decided that this summer I must read at least one Edith Wharton. Maybe I should read this instead!

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  5. Oh, I envy you. It seems like such a nice house. I have never been to the States, but I must very soon! I would really like to visit this house. I can really recommend the book, which also make you want to read more of her books. I understand she was also into decorating and wrote books about it. I hope you will like it, once you read it.

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