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

Edited by Irene Goldman-Price. Yale Univ., $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-300-16989-8
Given her preoccupations with class and social status, it is apropos that Wharton scholar Goldman-Price’s volume makes available Wharton’s letters to Anna Bahlmann—her tutor, governess, and secretary—and offers a glimpse inside that class-bound high society. Bahlmann began as a German tutor for the precocious 12-year-old Wharton and the two bonded as the older woman fed her student’s voracious appetite and nurtured her literary ambitions. The most engaging material comes from this early part of their relationship, during which Bahlmann offered criticism of Wharton’s literary efforts and made suggestions for further reading. Over the years, Bahlmann became something of a personal assistant and a member of the Wharton household staff, often responsible for turning Wharton’s manuscripts into print. Despite clear affection, Wharton’s letters to Bahlmann are frustratingly devoid of comment either on her tumultuous life (a husband institutionalized, a faithless lover) or artistic process. Aesthetically flat and concerned with tedious domestic matters—cities to travel to next, the quality of the day’s outing—the letters will only interest specialists. However, despite the lackluster content, the volume itself is well edited, with a competent introduction and a useful commentary throughout that situates each letter in the context of Wharton’s life and travels. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/09/2012
Release date: 06/01/2012
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