In 1907 Paris, Edith Wharton appears to have a perfect life. She is a wealthy woman and an accomplished writer. She is able to travel to her heart’s content and divides her time between New York, Paris and a large summer home in Massachusetts. She is constantly surrounded by cultured people and accomplished friends. But a closer look behind the glamour shows an unhappy woman.
Growing up with a cold, distant mother and now trapped in a loveless marriage to Teddy Wharton, Edith has only ever found relief and contentment in her writing and the one woman who has always given her undying love and loyalty, her governess turned secretary and closest friend, Anna Bahlmann. Given her utter disdain for her husband, Edith is determined that she is not built for passion. That is until she meets the dashing journalist Morton Fullerton.
At the age of forty six, bookish, prim and somewhat prudish Edith finally experiences the deep flush and electricity of pure passion in Morton’s arms and, for the first time in her life, feels truly happy. However this untoward love affair does not sit well with everyone and begins to drive a wedge between Edith and Anna as well as begins to drive Teddy even further into his own personal madness. How much is Edith willing to risk for a love affair, and a man, that doesn’t turn out to be all she hoped for?
The Age of Desire is the first novel I can think of that is beautifully written and that I enjoyed but that presents a main character that I cannot help but dislike. Edith is spoiled, prideful, over dramatic and impatient with anyone that does not do what she wants when she wants it. Her disgust for her poor husband, Teddy, is quite sad as he seems to really love her and allowed her to set the rules of their marriage, which basically meant she put up with him only when she was required to. The loving and loyal Anna, who is by far the most sympathetic and enjoyable character, even experiences Edith’s cruelty when Anna cannot bring herself to condone Edith’s harsh treatment of Teddy and her affair with the equally selfish Morton Fullerton. Anna’s reward for her concern for Edith is to be sent away from the one place she has always felt at home: by Edith’s side. Even when Edith makes an effort to make amends for her past wrongdoings at the end of the book it doesn’t seem to be wholly unselfish and doesn’t really do much to change my opinion of her.
With all this said about Edith, The Age of Desire is still remarkably entertaining. The writing is lyrical and quite beautiful and it is easy to dip into the glitz and glamour of the time and places described. All of the characters, regardless of their importance, feel very real and true to the time period. Whether you like them or not, they are nothing if they are not entertaining!
Never having read any of Edith Wharton’s books and knowing nothing of her life or circumstances, it was very interesting getting a peak into the mind of the woman behind classics like The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth and definitely prompts me to want to read her novels now. The author does not provide an author’s note explaining what is fact and what is fiction in The Age of Desire, but it would still be intriguing to read Ms. Wharton’s books and try to decipher what parts of her life she included in these stories.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.