Monday, October 15, 2012

"The Age of Desire," by Jennie Fields

How could this devoted reader of Edith Wharton resist a well-reviewed novel based on Wharton's life? Although I have read biographies of the great author, I knew I had to read this novel. And for the most part, I am glad I did. The biographical events are not "new" to us, but Fields delves into Wharton's emotional life in a revealing way. She focuses on Wharton's sad, depressing, sexless marriage to a man who had no interest in her writing and who was probably bipolar, and on her tempestuous but ultimately also sad and disappointing relationship with her lover, the younger journalist Morton Fullerton. She also shows the steady importance of, and support provided by, her longtime assistant, Anna. We are able to see Edith's life at a different angle through Anna's eyes. But the most conflagatory aspect of the novel is the portrayal of Wharton's sexual awakening, in her forties, by Fullerton. Fields brilliantly details the infatuation, the discovery of exciting new feelings, the constant awareness of the loved one, the torture when he doesn't visit or write, and all the other accompaniments of a great passion. At times the descriptions of these feelings (not to mention the sexual scenes themselves) are overwrought and repetitive. Variations on the theme "she had never felt like this before" are too common. And this reader wishes there had been more about Wharton's books in the novel. We do see some glimpses of her writing process, but not enough. But overall, I very much enjoyed this novel.

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