My Dear Governess

The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann

By Edith Wharton; Irene Goldman-Price (Editor)
(Yale University Press, Hardcover, 9780300169898, 296pp.)

Publication Date: June 2012

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Description

An exciting archive came to auction in 2009: the papers and personal effects of Anna Catherine Bahlmann (1849 1916), a governess and companion to several prominent American families. Among the collection wereone hundred thirty-fiveletters from her most famous pupil, Edith Newbold Jones, later the great American novelist Edith Wharton. Remarkably, until now, just three letters from Wharton's childhood and early adulthood were thought to survive. Bahlmann, who would become Wharton's literary secretary and confidante, emerges in the letters as a seminal influence, closely guiding her precocious young student's readings, translations, and personal writing. Taken together, these letters, written over the course of forty-two years, provide a deeply affecting portrait of mutual loyalty and influence between two women from different social classes.

This correspondence reveals Wharton's maturing sensibility and vocation, and includes details of her life that will challenge long-held assumptions about her formative years. Wharton scholar Irene Goldman-Price provides a rich introduction to "My Dear Governess" that restores Bahlmann to her centralplace in Wharton's life.




About the Author
Edith Newbold Jones was born January 24, 1862, into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the age of eighteen she had written a novella, (as well as witty reviews of it) and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly. After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society.

Upon the publication of The House of Mirth in 1905, Wharton became an instant celebrity, and the the book was an instant bestseller, with 80,000 copies ordered from Scribner's six weeks after its release. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton's reputation as an important novelist.

Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Andre Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.

Wharton had a great fondness for dogs, and owned several throughout her life.



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