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several misconceptions, most notably the negative picture of her mother that Edith herself painted in her published and unpublished autobiographies.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.