Edith Wharton was a celebrated author of the Gilded Age, the era in American history from the close of the Civil War through the turn of the twentieth century. Novels like 'House of Mirth' propelled her into the most select social events in the grand mansions in the East and abroad.
Despite her success, she suffered from a sexless, lackluster marriage to Teddy Wharton, a man subject to drastic mood changes and bouts of severe ill health. At a salon that Wharton frequents in one of her many stays in Paris, she meets an American journalist named Morton Fullerton, who captivates her with devastating good looks and flattering charm. Drawing on letters and diaries, the novel 'Age of Desire', written by author Jennie Fields, describes the ensuing love affair in the great detail.
Such a liaison was scandalous in the Gilded Age and right away draws the disapproval of a woman who was possibly the most important figure in Wharton’s life — Anna Bahlman, her childhood governess who became her secretary and close friend.
Swept away by her sexual awakening, Edith falls deeply in love with Fullerton, who keeps her off balance by seeming to return her love wholeheartedly at times, and being distant and uncaring at others. During the same time the maidenly Anna becomes attracted to Teddy, Edith’s husband and is more sympathetic to his ill health and depressed moods than Edith, whose fame has made her self-centered.
At one time when Edith is away, Teddy asks Anna to spend evenings at home with him, convincing her that she is a comfort to him and suggesting feelings toward her. He gives her a locket that she wears under her blouse.
What I enjoyed and recommend to others is the lavish lifestyle depicted among the wealthy Americans, who maintained homes and staffs of servants wherever their fancy called them. They descended on each others’ homes with scant notice for stays short or long. Author Henry James, for instance, arrives at someone’s home with a cold, insists he is dying, and demands the attention of the entire household as he recovers.
Elegant parties, beautifully furnished rooms, luxurious crossings by ship, meals, and lavish dress are described in detail. Wharton’s own novels portray her characters with grace and depth, and Fields does the same for this novel based on a person known previously for her literary achievements.