“The Age of Desire” by Jennie Fields

The American writer, Jennie Fields, has written an intimate novel on the love life of one of America’s most famous women writers, Edith Wharton.

She says in her Introduction: “I hope that, as a novelist, the very private and proud Edith looks down on me with indulgence..” In fact, while Fields does base her story on Wharton’s diaries and letters, she is also very imaginative and frank in writing of the love Wharton never had in her marriage but sought outside it.

The period is turn of the century, the early l900s, and much of the story takes place in Paris salons where famous literati and artists – including particularly Henry James who is a close friend of Edith Wharton’s – gather to exchange ideas. Wharton’s book The House of Mirth has just gained huge popularity. Meanwhile, Wharton divides her time between Paris, where she longs to be, and her large country house in Lenox, Massachusetts where she lives a separate emotional life with her American husband. Also included in her life is a childhood governess, secretary and close friend, Anne Bahlmann. She has her own story of emotional fulfillment. Altogether we get a tender, up-close look at the two women, their lives of combined affluence – dozens of servants and comfort everywhere – combined with emotional starvation.

Jennie Fields has written three novels. She also spent twenty-five years in New York as an advertising creative director. This is a provocative but compelling book.

Review by Anne McDougall