July 01, 2012
My Dear Governess: the Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann
From New Statesman:
Around 1908, Henry James wrote to a young man he knew: “You have made friends with Edith Wharton. I congratulate you. You may find her difficult, but you will never find her stupid and you will never find her mean.” This quotation appears in most Wharton biographies and many of James and now returns in this volume of letters edited by Irene Goldman-Price. (Goldman-Price somewhat surprisingly chooses to quote from Percy Lubbock’s version of the letter in his Portrait of Edith Wharton (1947), which changes the final clause to: “You will find nothing stupid in her and nothing small” – Lubbock was presumably quoting from memory.) Readers interested in Wharton’s very interesting life do not lack for opportunities to learn about her: she wrote an autobiography, A Backward Glance, in 1934; she has been the subject of three major biographies in the past 40 years; and a selection of her voluminous correspondence appeared in 1989. Wharton led an increasingly public existence as the grande dame of American letters in the first half of the 20th century but documentation of her early years has been patchy. To a great extent, biographers have had to rely on A Backward Glance, in which she describes growing up in the “old New York” of the 1870s and 1880s.
Then, in 2009, an unexpected treasure trove appeared at auction: Anna Catherine Bahlmann, who became Wharton’s governess in 1874 and was her companion and secretary until Bahlmann’s death in 1916, had kept all 135 of Wharton’s letters to her over 40 years. No one else knew of the letters’ existence and the archive is of real significance to Wharton scholarship. The majority of the Bahlmann correspondence was written before 1900, the year that Wharton’s first novel was published.
Posted by Azra Raza at 08:33 AM | Permalink