Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Interview:The Age of Desire: A Novel of Edith Wharton by Jennie Fields

Author: Jennie Fields
Publisher: Penguin Publishing
Date of publication: May 2013

For fans of The Paris Wife, 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.

Kari & Autumn: What inspired you to become a writer?
Jennie: Ever since I learned to read, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  I had a pretty hard childhood, and found I could escape into books.  Then I thought: why not write my own books?  I wrote my first “novel” in first grade. I wrote a 365 page book in fifth grade.  I guess I’ve never stopped.

Kari & Autumn: Where do you come up with the ideas for your books?

Jennie: Usually, I would answer, “the muse.”  But in the case of “The Age of Desire,” the muse was a living breathing person: my agent.  Five years ago, I was in Paris on business (I was an advertising creative director for years) and having a free day, I walked all over the city.  That afternoon, I walked down Edith Wharton’s street for the first time.  I was thrilled, as Edith’s always been my favorite author.  When I returned to my hotel room, there was a message to call my agent, Lisa.  Two weeks earlier, I’d said to her, “I am absolutely stumped about my next novel.  I’ve tried a few things, and nothing’s working. So if you have any thoughts at all, let me know.”  When I reached her, she said.  “I have an idea.  Why don’t you write about your favorite author, Edith Wharton.” Having, by serendipity, walked down Edith Wharton’s street that very day, well, I got chills.  Lisa had no idea I was even in Paris.  It was a beautiful and life-altering coincidence. 

Kari & Autumn: What exciting projects are waiting in the wings?

Jennie: I am writing a novel about a woman who was world-famous in the 1890’s, but is little known today.  She was one of the richest women in the world, influential, a feminist and an art collector.  In fact, she was one of the first art collectors to bring Impressionism to the United States.  But that’s all I’m going say!

Kari & Autumn: Who is your favorite literary character and why?

Jennie: Well, I guess I have to say Lily Bart from the house of Mirth.  She was raised to be merely beautiful and marry for money.  But in the end, her inherent decency prevents her from doing so.  And for that, I have to admire her. She is tragic and wonderful and so vivid to me. 

Kari & Autumn: Just for fun, if you could be any animal, what would it be and why?

Jennie: I’d like to be my insanely cute little dog, Violet Jane - because there could not possibly an animal in the world more beloved or pampered.

Praise for The Age of Desire

“Somewhere between the repressiveness of Edith Wharton’s early-20th-century Age of Innocence and our own libertine Shades of Grey era lies the absorbingly sensuous world of Jennie Fields’s The Age of Desire . . . along with the overheated romance and the middle-age passion it so accurately describes, The Age of Desire also offers something simpler and quieter: a tribute to the enduring power of female friendship.” —Boston Globe

“One doesn’t have to be an Edith Wharton fan to luxuriate in the Wharton-esque plotting and prose Fields so elegantly conjures.” —Kirkus

“Delicate and imaginative . . . Fields’s love and respect for all her characters and her care in telling their stories shines through." —Publishers Weekly

Beautiful ... an imaginative tour-de-force with the best-written naughty bits I have ever read." —UK Daily Mail

Inspired by Wharton’s letters, The Age of Desire is by turns sensuous . . . and sweetly melancholy.  It’s also a moving examination of a friendship between two women. —Bookpage

“A fascinating insight into the life of my favorite novelist. Fields brings a secret side of Wharton to life, and shows us a woman whose elegant façade concealed a turbulent sensuality.” —Daisy Goodwin, author of The American Heiress

“With astonishing tenderness and immediacy, The Age of Desire portrays the interwoven lives of Edith Wharton and Anna Bahlmann, her governess, secretary, and close friend.  By focusing on these two women from vastly different backgrounds, Jennie Fields miraculously illuminates an entire era. . . . I gained insight into both Wharton’s monumental work and her personal struggles—and I was filled with regret that I’d finished reading so soon.” —Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light and A Fierce Radiance

“In the vein of Loving Frank or The Paris Wife, Jennie Fields has created a page-turning period piece. Fields portrays a woman whose life was hardly innocence and mirth, but passionate, complex, and more mysterious than one might ever imagine.” —Mary Morris, author of Nothing to Declare and Revenge

About the Author

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.
  You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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