As the Victorian era transition into the ‘modern’ era, women were finally discovering that sex and sexuality could be for their enjoyment, not just a wifely duty performed for the pleasure of their husbands.
We see evidence of this shift with the rise of female authorship. Many women started writing real books for women about women and things women cared about or longed for. One of the best known authors of this time was Edith Wharton.
Wharton wrote popular and influential novels such a The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocents that addressed issues of class (notably the upper class), manners, and of course love and sexual desire.
Like many female authors before her, Wharton had a story all of her own…..a story which author Jennie Fields explores in her historical fiction novel, based on a the true life story of Edith Wharton, The Age of Desire.
In the novel, we meet Wharton just after her successful release of The House of Mirth while she is vacationing in Paris with her husband and long time secretary, Anna Bahlmann. Wharton has been married for a number of years and has made a very good match with her husband Teddy. He is rich and s completely in love with Edith, but yet she feels like the marriage is wanting. She is not happy and finds his over all presence irritating and disgusting.
Edith and Teddy have very little in common, not only is she not in love with him, they aren’t good ‘companions’ either….they have little in common. Teddy loved animals and farming while Edith is looking for intellectual stimulation. They haven’t had marital relations in years, the first couple of times she found the act abhorring and refused to share a bed with him. More or less her life has been devoid of passion and has been empty for a very long time.
While in Paris, she happens to meet the dashing and charming Morton Fullerton, who is a journalist for the Times. Fullerton has quite the reputation though….he is known as a seducer or women and a penny-less writer where as Edith has fame from her novels as well as a fortune, independent from her husband.
In Fullerton, Edith finds an intellectual soulmate. He stimulates not only her mind, but he awakens something inside her….a longing both physical and emotional that she has never known before. They begin an affair that is unpredictable and tremulous but yet fiery and fiercely full of passion.
Even though Edith is ready to embrace the sexual freedom of the ‘modern woman’, most of society, including her secretary Anna, are not. Anna has been with Edith many years and disapproves of her relationship with Fullerton. She is of the old school and doesn’t think it’s right that Edith disregard a vow she made, no matter how unhappy she is.
The dynamics between Anna and Edith work well together in the novel. Anna’s character highlights the Victorian idea of what a woman and a wife should be like….forever doting on their husbands and being polite and respectable….in essence drab and uninteresting. But yet Anna has a hint of the modern woman in her. She longs to find love and she is educated with a mind of her own….but she maintains that layer of propriety that makes her a true Victorian ideal.
Edith on the other hand has tried to be the Victorian ideal but can never truly fill it. She is independent and self centered. She wants love and passion and ultimately doesn’t want to be burdened with a husband. She is the modern woman trapped in a society that isn’t quite ready for her. This pair make a great combo and highlight the social issues of the time….that transition from Victorian to Edwardian eras was such a critical turning point for women and I LOVE reading any books from this period, especially ones that address issues of love and sexuality.
Fullerton’s character I never quite trusted. He always seemed like a lying rake and I never got the impression that he truly loved Edith. It always seemed like he loved what she could do for him. I could see why someone like Edith could fall for him and how that sort of hot/cold personality could be fun and exciting but at the same time, it clearly took it’s toll on her.
I loved how the story unfolded. Though it’s a fictional account of their love affair, it wasn’t overly exaggerated. Nothing seemed out of place about the characters or the events that unfolded. I loved how Edith was portrayed with some flaws (surly attitude etc) and Anna too had her secrets. I thought this approach made the story that much more believable.
The setting added a lot to the novel as well….the romance of Paris really enhanced the feeling of desire and passion that I think Fields was going for.
I felt the sexual tension on every page….that little trepidation that Edith was feeing in the beginning but then abandoning herself to Fullerton while sight seeing in the French country side….Fields did a fantastic job building tension and anticipation…..almost too much though. That was the only hang up for me, it took so long for Fullerton and Edith to actually give into their desires.
After reading this novel, I have added many of Wharton’s books. I have never read anything by her…I have see The Age of Innocents film which was very very good, but I have not ever read her books. I am intrigued now that I know more about the woman behind the pages.
Be sure to check out the other stops on the book tour for guest posts and interviews with the author!
This book counts toward: 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
- Hosted by: Historical Tapestry
- Books for Challenge Completed: 18/15
Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5
Genre: Historic fiction, Victorian lit
Women read with their hearts.
In life no one explains themselves and rarely are people insightful enough to question their own motives
Restlessness without bravery means dissatisfaction
A woman in love is an ostentatious thing
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Thursday, August 29
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