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My Dear Governess

My Dear Governess: The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    My Dear Governess
    Book 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 were one hundred thirty-five letters 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 confidant, 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 toMy Dear Governessthat restores Bahlmann to her central place in Wharton's life.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18338-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-24)

    Anna Catherine Bahlmann was twenty-four years old when young Edith Jones, called Pussy, joined her list of pupils. She was to instruct the child in the German language. Discovering an eager, flexible mind hungering for the beauty of words and images, Bahlmann quickly added German poetry and folk tales to the girl’s curriculum. By the end of their first term together, in the spring of 1874, it was clear that teacher and pupil were mutually delighted. Edith Jones was twelve years old, and Anna Bahlmann may have been the first to sense the extent of her talent and potential. She...

  6. 1 “Herz” and “Tonnie” MAY 1874 TO MARCH 1885
    (pp. 25-62)

    When Anna Bahlmann first met her in 1873, Edith, called “Pussy” Jones, was a well-mannered, much-petted child of twelve, indulged the more by her parents for being the baby of the family, the only girl, and for having recently survived a near-fatal attack of typhoid fever. Not conventionally pretty, she had a strong, somewhat plain face with melting brown eyes and a torrent of auburn hair. She was possessed of a natural courtesy and an enchanting facility with words. In her imagination, the grasses in the wild spoke to her, and she understood, she later wrote, what animals said to...

  7. 2 “Spliced” JULY 1885 TO MAY 1893
    (pp. 63-116)

    Edith Newbold Jones and Edward Robbins Wharton were married at noon on 29 April 1885 in a modest ceremony at Trinity Chapel, New York, just across the street from the Jones home. Edith wore white satin trimmed with lace and silk mull; on her mass of hair, securing the veil, rested the diamond tiara that had been worn by Lucretia on her own wedding day, enhanced with diamonds given to Edith by Teddy. Her godfather, Frederic Rhinelander, escorted her down the aisle. Anna Bahlmann was almost certainly there; in the Bahlmann archive, now merely flakes in an envelope, we find...

  8. 3 “Un peu de faiblesse” AUGUST 1893 TO DECEMBER 1896
    (pp. 117-170)

    The summer of 1893 brought illness to the Whartons, and the foreboding of further problems, particularly for Teddy. In late August Edith wrote of her recovery from an unnamed illness that seemed to give her “attacks,” one while she had been in Tours in the spring and one more recently at their new home, Land’s End, in Newport. Perhaps, as she had mentioned in her letter of 11 January 1892, she suffered from malaria, or it may have been a respiratory or heart problem. Biographers have speculated that Wharton suffered a psychosomatic response to her unsatisfactory marriage, certainly a possibility....

    (pp. None)
  10. 4 “Harvesting laurels” APRIL 1898 TO APRIL 1907
    (pp. 171-204)

    During her thirteen years of married life, Edith Wharton had published more than a dozen poems, three stories, and one travel article, most of them inScribner’s Magazine. In 1897 her avocation in letters ripened to a career as an author as she undertook her first sustained effort of researching, writing, and managing a relationship with a publisher in order to produce, to her satisfaction, a book. In collaboration with the architect Ogden Codman, and with coaching from Walter Berry, Wharton devoted most of the summer and fall of 1897 to working on what would finally, after a half-dozen different...

  11. 5 “Turning-points” JUNE 1907 TO JULY 1914
    (pp. 205-246)

    There come turning-points where one has to go sharply round the corner without looking behind.” So wrote Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann in 1908, justifying Wharton’s unplanned flight from Lenox to London and Paris in early fall. Indeed, the years from 1907 to 1914 brought many turning points for Wharton, and she took the turns with determination and grace.

    The summer of 1907 was spent at The Mount, hosting numerous friends and finishing the design of Wharton’s latest novel,The Fruit of the Tree. Among their many guests that summer and fall, the Whartons entertained a friend of Henry James...

  12. 6 “This sudden incredible catastrophe” AUGUST 1914 TO APRIL 1916
    (pp. 247-276)

    Events of 1914 marked the beginning of the end of the more than forty years of companionship between Edith Wharton and Anna Bahlmann. As early as 1911 Wharton was indicating in letters to others that she found Bahlmann’s company sometimes trying, sometimes a little boring. By now Wharton had many friends whose humor, intellect, and social standing more closely matched her own. It’s no wonder that, with less of Wharton’s conversation and few other friends or pupils with whom to discuss what she read, Bahlmann’s imagination may have begun to stiffen along with her arthritic knees. And for Wharton, with...

    (pp. 277-282)
    (pp. 283-284)
    (pp. 285-286)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 287-296)