My Dear Governess; The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann – Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

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My Dear Governess; The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann edited by Irene Goldman-Price; Yale University Press, 2012. 296 pages; $30.00 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

On May 31st, 1874, twelve-year-old Edith Wharton (then Edith Jones) wrote to her beloved twenty-five-year-old governess, Anna Bahlmann, inviting her to come to the Jones’ summer home in Newport, Rhode Island: “…we shall have a room ready for you and be very, very glad indeed to see you.” It was the first of 135 letters, tenderly written over forty-two years, and unknown to Wharton scholars until they surfaced at auction in 2009. Their publication provides a rare, unguarded picture of young Edith and corrects several misconceptions, most notably the negative picture of her mother that Edith herself painted in her published and unpublished autobiographies. Equally as interesting is the editor’s research on Anna Bahlmann, which brings the proud but self-effacing governess out of the shadows. The letters themselves are infinitely readable and profuse annotations make them accessible to those unfamiliar with Wharton’s life.

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton

By Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge


Edith Wharton, author of Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, and other acclaimed novels, was born into a wealthy New York City family during the Gilded Age. In fact, she was a Jones of “keeping up with the Joneses” fame.  This anecdote opens Woodridge’s biography of an astonishing life.  Beginning in childhood, Edith found ways to escape from society’s and her family’s expectations and follow an unconventional, creative path. Unhappily married and eventually divorced, she surrounded herself with the cultural creatives of her day, mostly male friends.  To escape the obligations of New York City high society, she spent much of her life in Paris and was recognized by the French government for her work establishing four charities during World War I. Her literary and personal life, her witty and incisive correspondence, her fondness for automobiles and small dogs–all are detailed in this vibrant account of a woman well ahead of her time.  Includes photographs, a bibliography, source notes, and an index.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

Connie Nordhielm WooldridgeBiography | View

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