Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Guest Post - Jennie Fields, Author of The Age of Desire

Today, I am very pleased to welcome Jennie Fields to my book blog, the author of The Age of Desire. In this fascinating guest post, she reveals how an incredible discovery during the writing of her book about the great author, Edith Wharton, impacted the depth of her book. Enjoy!

By: Jennie Fields

Writing a biographical novel is not just about telling a life story, but about creating a world around the main character.  In the case of Edith Wharton, whose mid-life love affair with a younger man was the basis for my novel “The Age of Desire,” it was soon apparent to me that I needed to tell this tale not just through Edith’s eyes but also through a character who could view her from the outside.  I discovered there was a woman who was with Edith for more than thirty years, first as her childhood governess, then as her literary secretary and first reader.  Her name was Anna Bahlmann and Edith Wharton’s biographers all but ignored her. 

But because they were together so long, I thought Edith and Anna must have been close.  With some research, I discovered Anna was rather remarkable: orphaned at the age of two, she nevertheless became a cultured, educated and self-supporting woman in an era where there were few options for what was considered the weaker sex.  After discovering all I could about her, I began to write. 

Then about two months in, a miracle occurred. One night, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and typed Anna Bahlmann’s name into a search engine as I had a thousand times before.  But that night, a new listing appeared.  Christies, that very week, was auctioning off 135 letters from Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann that had been stashed away for over a hundred years! 

I called Christies as soon as they opened the next day and asked if they’d allow me to view the letters, as I was in the middle of writing a novel about these two women.  Much to my surprise, they said, “Of course.  Come in.  We’ll set you up at a table.”  For two days, I poured these wonderful letters, hands shaking.  This pile of sweet missives revealed an almost mother/daughter relationship.  Starting when Edith was a bright eyed, unbelievably articulate child, writing to governess Anna about books and writing and ideas, missing her when she went off to teach other children, begging her to visit them at their country house, to later letters when Edith counted on Anna to help run her affairs, admonished her for worrying too much over her, and laughed with her about things only they could share; their friendship was warm, touching and intimate.

In the end, “The Age of Desire” is not just about a mid-life love affair, but about an abiding friendship between two remarkable women.  And to my mind, that makes it a richer, more universal book.  How lucky I was that Anna Bahlmann came into Edith Wharton’s life, and into mine.



Born in the heart of the heart of the country – Chicago — Jennie Fields decided to become a writer at the age of six and produced her first (365 page!) novel when she was eleven. She received her MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop and published her first short stories while spending a postgraduate year at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. But needing to feed her family in the era just post-Mad Men, she became an early female copywriter at an advertising agency, soon rising to creative director and moving to New York. In her 32-year advertising career, she wrote and produced many well-known and award-winning commercials. People even now can embarrass her by telling her they grew up dancing to one of her McDonalds’ jingles.
Still, fiction was her great love. Writing during her lunch hour and after her daughter’s bedtime she penned her first novel, Lily Beach, which was published by Atheneum in 1993 to much acclaim. Since then, she’s written three more novels including Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and The Middle Ages. Her latest, The Age of Desire, is a biographical novel based on the life of the author dearest to her heart, Edith Wharton. An Editor’s Choice of the New York Times Book Review, it describes Wharton’s mid-life love affair with a younger, manipulative man. Why the affinity to Wharton? Because she wrote about people attempting to break society’s expectations for them – which is something Fields has been yearning to do all her life.
For more information, please visit Jennie’s website

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields

About the Book:

A sparkling glimpse into the life of Edith Wharton and the scandalous love affair that threatened her closest friendship.
They say that behind every great man is a great woman. Behind Edith Wharton, there was Anna Bahlmann—her governess turned literary secretary and confidante. At the age of forty-five, despite her growing fame, Edith remains unfulfilled in a lonely, sexless marriage. Against all the rules of Gilded Age society, she falls in love with Morton Fullerton, a dashing young journalist. But their scandalous affair threatens everything in Edith’s life—especially her abiding ties to Anna.
At a moment of regained popularity for Wharton, Jennie Fields brilliantly interweaves Wharton’s real letters and diary entries with her fascinating, untold love story. Told through the points of view of both Edith and Anna, The Age of Desire transports readers to the golden days of Wharton’s turn-of-the century world and—like the recent bestseller The Chaperone—effortlessly re-creates the life of an unforgettable woman.
My thoughts:

I love it when I read a book that inspires me to search for more information...that makes me want to know more about an historical figure or sheds new light on a topic. That is exactly what reading The Age of Desire did for me, and I want to thank author Jennie Fields for sparking a new interest in the writings of Edith Wharton. Ethan Frome is the only Wharton novel that I have read (required college reading), but I am now very interested in reading The House of Mirth and her other novels with a much deeper understanding of the author's feelings and motivations.

I knew going into this book that when I would encounter Edith Wharton in the novel, it would be necessary to put aside modern sensibilities and twenty-first century attitudes to fully embrace her journey and awakening . It is challenging to look back at the repressive, restrictive attitudes and behavior of society in the early 1900's and not feel frustrated.  However, that was the reality of the time period. Edith, trapped in an unhappy and unfulfulling marriage, turned to her writing for solace and her faithful friend and assistant, Anna Bahlmann, for companionship.

I thoroughy enjoyed Edith's evolution and discovery of her passions -- her visits to Parisian salons populated by artists, writers, and intellectuals opened her eyes to new ways of thinking and challenged her conventional attitudes. It also introduced her to a sensual world which she thought was forever closed to her -- her secret relationship with journalist Morton Fullerton would bring her both pleasure and great pain. Fields uses excerpts from Wharton's letters and diaries to enhance the story of an extraordinary and complex writer's exploration of relationships, her sexuality, and self-discovery. A very interesting read!

Title: The Age of Desire
Author: Jennie Fields
Publisher: Penguin Books
352 pages

For more information, reviews, and guest posts, please visit Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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