Words leave imprints in your mind like footprints in the sand
Whether you have read any book by Edith Wharton or not will not matter before you start the The Age of Desire. By the end of the novel, you will not only be able to see but you will feel as if you know Edith Wharton intimately and want to read her books.
I myself have read The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth although it was quite a while ago. I now feel as if I have met the woman who wrote them.
The author, Fields, can effortlessly and skillfully draw people and places with her words. I had very clear pictures in my mind of what each of these true life characters looked like and what they wore and the subsequent pictures I found of them more than matched the images in my head. Very clever.
Whatever you may or may not know about Edith Wharton, the truth is that a like any person, she had a life hidden from the page and it is this insight that this book, although one of fiction is based on letters and research painstakingly carried out by the author.
Edith is not really a very likable character in much of the book and she acts like petulant child in much of it especially in her relationships with her lover, Morton Fullerton, and governess Anna who becomes a life long companion, secretary and first reader.
Morton Fullerton is charismatic, compelling, and draws the attention of men and women alike. Edith, a married woman is surprised to find he favours her and she becomes drawn to him in a way that becomes increasingly obsessive. It is with him that she discovers the joy of sexual awakening for the first time.
Edith’s best friend and former governess Anna Bahlmann, is a particularly interesting character since the author has used letters from Edith to Anna to explore their complex relationship. The parts of the novel from Anna’s point of view make for some interesting insights into how a person can care for someone but dislike them and feel powerless to help at the same time. But for me, one sentence cleverly sums up the relationship between the two women. Describing Anna it says:
‘Edith is a language she’s spoken fluently for years.’
THE BOOK TRAILS
St Martin d’ Herbley
The parts of the novel I particularly enjoyed were during Edith’s book trails – the time she spends travelling to St Martin d’Herbley to see where Hortense Albert wrote and so she could feel her ghostly presence. She mentions how she can see Albert ‘standing in her yard looking wistfully out toward the river, her hair pulling from its pins in the breeze’.
Edith visits Rousseau’s house to see where he penned ‘The Social Contract’ and looks at the desk where he sat and wrote. She is captivated by it and I felt as if these bookish book trails were an integral part of how Edith worked and how she understood as a writer being able to get close to such literary inspiration.
Of course Paris was the place that Edith was most at home since she had gone there to write and the novel opens as she is at a literary salon in the capital and hoping that the Revue de Paris may serialise it. It is going to be translated and there is discussion as to the merits of translating it, particularly since it is written by a women. I feel the argument of translating fiction is still one that is ongoing even today so I was particular interested to read about this issue back then.
Despite all the seriousness and difficult subjects approached in this novel there are moments of humour and it is one such image that stands out for me in particular – the writer Henry James is well known for his ‘waffling’ and his over exaggeration which I find amusing to being discussed by Edith and other writers. But is it a scene where he comes to visit Edith and he takes to his bed with what essentially appears to be ‘man flu’:
He writes a note in event of his death You’ll have to have a piano mover remove me from this lovely bedroom he announces.
‘He moans and lies back on his pillow. Edith notes that he has put on a beautiful silk dressing gown and wears an ascot. Quite an effort for just lying in bed.’
If you like books about writers and their lives then this is really detailed yet never boring ride through a rich period of Edith Wharton, Morton Fullerton and Henry James. Read this and then read a book by the writer herself. Just to take your journey that step further.
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Welcome to Alana Munro's blog - #1 bestselling kindle author of Women Behaving Badly - Exposing the Truth about Female Friendship and Book Marketer/owner of Reach for the Stars - a quality yet affordable book marketing service ran by authors for authors. You'll also find poetry, inspirational posts, photography and her writing. Connect with Alana today!