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Jennie Fields received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is the author of three other novels, Lily Beach, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and The Middle Ages. An Illinois native, she spent many years as an advertising creative director in New York and currently lives with her husband in Nashville, Tennessee.
Q and A with Jennie
The relationship between Edith and Anna is very complex. Did you always plan on making their troubled friendship central to the book, or did it grow out of your research?
It wasn’t until three months into the writing of the book that I decided to add a secondary protagonist, someone who could view Edith objectively. Anna Bahlmann seemed the perfect character as she was with Edith on and off since her days as Edith’s governess until the year Anna died in 1916. To have kept Anna with her so long, I assumed they must be very close, but biographers had hardly mentioned her.
Then after I’d already written many chapters of the book, a miracle occurred. Over 100 letters from Edith to Anna which had been moldering in an attic came up for auction at Christies! Everything I supposed about their relationship was true. They were loving and close since Edith’s childhood, and she trusted Anna with a great deal. I grew more and more intrigued with this shadowy figure.
Questions began to arise. Why, for instance, during the summer after the onset of Edith’s affair with Morton Fullerton, was Anna suddenly sent to Europe on a trip that was considered a gift from Edith? Earlier, in letters to other people, it was clear Edith was upset and even annoyed when Anna wasn’t around to help her, so why was it arranged for them to be suddenly so much apart? Though I have no hard evidence that Anna was disturbed by Edith’s relationship with Fullerton, many events suggested she’d been sent away. I wanted Anna to be the book’s conscience. If Edith was unhappy, disturbed by her splintering relationship to Morton, it made sense she’d send Anna off on a trip.
Another intriguing coincidence is that I had created a warm alliance between Anna and Teddy. After I’d written most of the book, I found letters from Edith to others that said that Anna was a calming influence over Teddy on his worst days, the only one patient enough to sit with him, that he was asking for her – exactly as I had written it.