Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to join an audience of inquisitive and very fun ladies at Bank Square Books in Mystic, CT, to hear author Jennie Fields discuss her novel, The Age of Desire. One of my favorite reads from 2012, The Age of Desire is a novelization of the life of Edith Wharton during the time of her infamous affair with Morton Fullerton, and it also explores her relationship with her former governess and great friend, Anna Bahlmann. It's a fabulous novel for many reasons - the unflinchingly honest portrait of Edith, the beautiful writing, the spine-tingling yet tragic love story - but I also feel like it's a book that gives you twice as much as you'd expect. Edith and Anna are two very contrasting characters, and each woman takes a piece of the novel, allowing the reader to experience each of their stories in a very personal and fascinating way. (You can read my review of the novel here on the blog from last fall.)
This was my first visit to Bank Square Books and the shoreline town of Mystic; it's such a lovely place, and the staff at the bookstore were all delightful. It was a welcoming, accommodating, and terrifically fun environment, perfect for sitting back and enjoying the thrill of books. It's the sort of indie shop that has an instant familiarity but also a genuine uniqueness to it, and after browsing the shelves it was still hard to tear myself away. I did eventually, but not after adding a few more books to my collection, including, appropriately, a bit of Henry James. If you're ever in Mystic be sure to stop by the bookstore and take a walk down Main Street, which boasted quite a few charming-looking shops.
I loved hearing the audience's questions for Jennie about her writing process, and she even shared a bit about the novel she's currently working on (I won't say anything other than that I'm excited). She gave a fantastic reading from The Age of Desire and shared insights into Edith, her relationships, and her extensive writing career. It's remarkable just how much Edith Wharton produced in her life - a look at her bibliography will show nearly one publication every year for several decades - and yet readers today often distance themselves from her work, as a lot of folks are inclined to do with the classics. Jennie did a wonderful job of presenting Edith as an accessible writer for the modern age; she generated a great excitement to explore books like The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, The Custom of the Country, and also the more obscure works like The Mother's Recompense. This event happened at the perfect time as I'm just about halfway through The House of Mirth, my first time reading Wharton, and all of Jennie's points resonated perfectly with my experience so far. An interesting point she made that I'm excited to explore was the difference between Edith's writing in The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, the latter of which Jennie said holds much more passion - a result, she wondered, of Edith's affair with Morton being the dividing factor between the books. I'm certainly intrigued to continue learning more about Edith and her writing, and I'm very grateful to Jennie Fields and the folks at Bank Square Books for such a wonderful and enlightening experience.
The Age of Innocence is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and there are also a few signed copies left at Bank Square Books so stop by if you're in the area. Jennie's tour also continues in South Carolina tonight before moving on to the Midwest - find all the stops and more information at her website.
Featured photo courtesy of Bank Square Books