The Gilded Age      The Innocents cover

Jonathan Franzen may be dogging her in the pages of The New Yorker, but publishers are betting that Edith Wharton is hotter than ever, 150 years after the perceptive chronicler of New York's Gilded Age was born.

Not one, but two books based on Edith Wharton novels are being published in June. The Gilded Age (Simon & Schuster) is set in WASP-y modern-day Cleveland and based on The House of Mirth; The Innocents (Voice) is set in a Jewish neighborhood in contemporary London and based on The Age of Innocence. In a weird coincidence, the trouble-making, misjudged female protagonists in both novels are named Ellie.

age of desire jacketIf this isn't enough for you, just wait until August, when Pamela Dorman Books will publish The Age of Desire. Here, Edith Wharton takes center stage as author Jennie Fields depicts a love affair that nearly destroys the writer's closest friendship. From the publisher's description:

"They say behind every great man is a woman. Behind Edith Wharton, there was Anna Bahlmann—her governess turned literary secretary, and her mothering, nurturing friend. When at the age of 45, Edith falls passionately in love with a dashing younger journalist, Morton Fullerton, and is at last opened to the world of the sensual, it threatens everything certain in her life—but especially her abiding friendship with Anna."

I've always been a fan of a good literary homage—This Burns My HeartOn Beauty, etc.—but the "novels—now starring real people!" trend of the past few years is wearing thin for me, especially when the central feature of the story is a (often dubious) love affair. Unlike traditional historical fiction, these novels often rely less on fact and more on imagining some event in the protagonist's emotional life. But word has it that Fields focuses more on friendship than love and has drawn much of her inspiration from Wharton's diaries and letters, giving her story a strong factual basis.

What say you, readers? Looking forward to any of these books? What do you think of the real-people-in-fiction thing?


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