Jennie Fields draws me into her multi-layered historical novel of the Pulitizer Prize
winner Edith Wharton, in "The Age of Desire." Since my viewing of Wharton’s,
"The Age of Innocence" (movie) several years ago, as a sociology teacher, I was
intrigued with her stories set and plotted in the highly stratified society of New York
and Europe, in the late nineteenth century, and early twentieth Century. Similarly,
this book can be seen in the same sociological framework, as well as a work of art.
Fields captures the time period when women normally had little education or
opportunities to succeed in the publishing business and anywhere else for that matter.
Using primary sources of diaries and letters recently discovered, Fields highlights
Wharton’s relationship with her tutor (from her childhood) to her middle-age years,
in which Anna Bahlmann was her in-house secretary/servant and confidante, who
loves Edith, but sometimes disapproves of her friends and the choices she makes. But
Anna was always available and a crutch for Wharton during the most difficult of times.
Fields flashes scenes of Wharton’s miserable marriage to a bi-polar husband, in
a marriage she seemed to be unable to do anything about, as many women were at that
time. Women in the Upper- Class seldom had the freedom to select their lifetime
partners. But unlike the life that most women experienced, she lived a luxurious and an
extremely active life, as an intellectual and widely traveled professional woman. To
escape her mundane marital life, Wharton traveled widely, back and forth to Europe.
Particularly, to Paris. She kept company with other intellectuals such as Henry James and
Morton Fullerton. The latter gentleman, the handsome, well-dressed writer Fullerton,
who smelled of lavender, was the one she engaged with in a torrid love affair. He excited
her mind as well as her sexual desires. For, it was Fullerton who brought her to multiple
orgasms, which again, was seldom experienced by women at that time, as well as today.
If you accept the findings of sociological surveys done in recent studies. Fields
describes the love scenes with her tantalizing use of words that might excite some of the
most prudish women that read it today. Her love scenes between Wharton and her lover,
Fullerton, are indeed filled with descriptions of lurid desire.
Fields has a magical use of words, not only when describing Wharton’s relationships,
but when she richly describes the Paris scenes and the beautiful homes where Wharton
lived. In the most eloquent manner, Fields brings us to the scenes as if we were
observing a movie in a tightly woven story.
I highly recommend Jennie Field’s beautifully written book, The Age of Desire,
to all adults. Especially, to students of history, sociology and Edith Wharton fans.
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