Friday, August 9, 2013

Why I Love Edith Wharton by Jennie Fields

Today we are pleased to welcome Jennie Fields here to Historical Tapestry as part of her blog tour to celebrate the release of her novel The Age of Desire.


If you’re like 75% of Americans, you were forced to read Ethan Frome in high school and you hated it. Therefore you think that reading Edith Wharton will be a dreary chore. I don’t know why Ethan Frome became standard high school fare, except that it’s short enough that teenagers can read it and still get their algebra homework turned in on time. But what a pity, because Ethan Frome is the least typical of all Edith’s novels. And brilliant as it is, it’s far too grim for sixteen year olds who have other things on their minds.

So, having swallowed that bitter Ethan Frome pill, it wasn’t until I was in college and taking a course on “American Women Authors” that I read The House of Mirth and fell madly in love with Edith. The first thing that struck me about The House of Mirth was how modern it is! Having read plenty of Henry James, I couldn’t believe that Edith and Henry lived in the same era! Again, Henry James is brilliant, but some of his sentences are so ponderous you could drink an entire cup of tea getting through a single one. Edith’s writing is crisp, funny, ironic and cruel. It could have been written yesterday. It moves. It sings. Sure, society has changed, but people haven’t. And Edith captured them all with all their foibles, vulnerability and charm. I stayed up all night reading her cautionary tale about a women who possesses beauty but no money amidst a society poised to bring her down. The House of Mirth is tragic in a unique way: Lily Bart, its main character, is undone by her better instincts, not her wicked ones. Because her conscience ultimately doesn’t allow her to do what she’s expected to do -- marry a wealthy husband even if she finds him dull or odious -- she falters, and in the end, falls in a rather spectacular way.

Next, I encountered The Age of Innocence, the book that made Edith Wharton the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1921. A story about passion vs. duty, amidst the strangling power of a tight-knit society, it haunted me for weeks. (The experience of endless longing that Edith described so achingly in The Age of Innocence could never have been written if not for her affair with Morton Fullerton I later discovered.) But there were so many more Edith Wharton candy boxes yet to open. The Custom of the Country is the story of the most hateful main character I’ve ever encountered, and yet, you can’t stop turning the pages to discover what becomes of her. The Mother’s Recompense is a tale about a woman whose much younger and still beloved ex-lover pursues her daughter. In another author’s hands, it could have been a soap opera. In Edith’s, it’s a heartbreaking account. Oh, and have you ever read Edith’s ghost stories? I bet you didn’t know that she secretly wrote erotica! And war correspondence. And travel tales. And even a decorating book. In her lifetime, Edith Wharton wrote forty brilliant volumes.

So why do I love Edith Wharton? Because all these years later, she still speaks to us, moves us, challenges us. For me, there’s no writer better at making me feel the wondrous breadth of human existence. And no writer has matched her yet for breathtaking pinpoint prose. If you’re still healing from an early encounter with Ethan Frome, stop by your local bookshop today (if God-willing there’s still one near you) and pick up a writer who will rock your world.

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #AgeOfDesireTour
Jennie Fields' website
Jennie Fields on Facebook
Jennie Fields on Twitter.

About the book

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.


  1. Great piece, I just finished The Age of Desire, great book!

  2. Lovely insights, and I couldn't agree more. The House of Mirth still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it; now I'm looking forward to finally reading The Age of Innocence and onward to some of her lesser-known works. For a woman who wrote so very much in her time - and certainly considering her achievement of being the first woman to win the Pulitzer - it's surprising that so much of her work actually is lesser-known, and that she isn't in general a bit more popular. All the same, discovering her writing has been a treasure, and of course I'm grateful to Jennie and The Age of Desire for planting that seed!

    (And what a wonderful blog - so happy to have discovered it through this blog tour!)

  3. Thank you Tracey and Casee for you kind comments. And I agree: what a wonderful blog! - Jennie Fields

  4. The Age of Innocence is one of my favorite books of all time. I actually had to read it in high school (instead of Ethan Frome), and I was the only one in the class who liked it. :(

  5. Wonderful post, and so interesting and refreshing! I also loathed Ethan Frome in high school, but reread it a year or so ago after reading and loving The Age of Innocence, and found so much to like in it. I agree, though, it is not the right Wharton for high school kids to read. Short isn't everything!

    Your book about Wharton looks wonderful. I will definitely put it on my TBR list as I really enjoy reading about authors, both bios and fictional accounts.

  6. I absolutely adore Edith Wharton's books; I discovered them myself in high school. I was lucky enough to start with The Age of Innocence and it is now one of my two favourite books. And I've just bought The Age of Desire now. Have to read it!