Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lying on the couch at the Mount

From Slate:

More recently, on a visit to Edith Wharton's country house in Lenox, Mass., I ducked into the empty living room and stretched out on the sofa, nap-style: Will regarding the ceiling from such an oddly intimate angle disclose a previously overlooked insight into the great woman herself? Only later did I stop to think that Wharton probably wasn't the napping type.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Edith Wharton letters

Edith Wharton Predicts Her Future

A trove of 136 Edith Wharton letters—some written when Wharton was just fourteen years old—sold at Christie’s yesterday to an American educational institution for $182,500. It’s a tremendous treat for Wharton aficionados, because prior to this discovery—as Rebecca Mead points out in her essay this week—there was only one known letter by Wharton from before she was married, at the age of twenty-three, in 1885.

Mead explains that Wharton asked Anna Bahlmann, her governess and the recipient of the letters, to destroy them. But she didn’t, and Bahlmann’s niece, who inherited them, held on to them, too. They sat for some fifty years in an attic and for another forty in a safe-deposit box. The Christie’s auction is the first time the letters have been publicly shared.

A friend of mine pointed out that Edith Wharton’s first novella, published in 1900, is eerily apt. “The Touchstone” tells the story of a betrayal committed by an impoverished lawyer named Stephen Glennard, who is hoping to marry his beautiful and equally impoverished fiancée. By chance, Glennard discovers that he can sell the love letters written to him earlier by the famous late writer Margaret Aubyn. They sell for a hefty price, allowing Glennard and his fiancée to wed. But Glennard is preoccupied with the guilt over the sale, and feels incapable of overcoming his sense of shame and betrayal to Aubyn.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wharton's letters

There's a slide show of Edith Wharton's letters over at The New Yorker; the article is only in the print version, unfortunately.

Edith Wharton-Anna Bahlmann letters

From the Christie's catalog:

Lot Description

WHARTON, Edith Newbold Jones (1862-1937). An extensive archive documenting her 42-year relationship with Anna Catherine Bahlmann (1849-1916), originally Edith's German language tutor, later her secretary and literary assistant. Comprising: 136 AUTOGRAPH LETTERS SIGNED ("E.N. Jones," "Herz" [heart], "E.W." etc), to Bahlmann ("Tonni"), various places (PenCraig, Rhode Island; The Mount, Lenox, Mass.; Venice, Paris, Rome, Washington Square, NY, etc.), 31 May 1874 - 15 September 1917. Includes one ALS from Edward ("Teddy") Robbins Wharton and 4 ALS of Edith Wharton to Bahlmann's niece after Anna Catherine's death. Some of the letters are quite lengthy, running to 8 and even 12 pages, 8vo and 12mo. (Many of Edith Wharton's letters with full transcripts).

various correspondents including Henry James (8/14/05); effects including clippings, programs, poems by acquaintances, typescript articles, a last will and testament, pamphlets on war-relief, ledgers and notebooks, a small sachet with ink drawing of young girl labeled "E.N. Jones 1875" etc. [With:] POSTCARDS: 46 from Edith and Anna Catherine's trip to North Africa, 1914; 278 additional postcards of European places and monuments.[With:] PHOTOGRAPHS: 25 pieces, many labeled by Bahlmann on verso, including portraits of Edith Wharton and other acquaintances, a number of large-format views and interior photographs of the Mount, 884 Park Avenue and other homes.


In about 1872, Edith's parents, on the suggestion of their Newport neighbors, the Lewis Rutherfurds, hired Anna Catherine Bahlmann (1849-1916), a young women of German ancestry, as tutor and later governess to the precocious 12-year-old Edith Newbold Jones, a voracious reader with strong literary inclinations. Their friendship became a close, enduring one. Years later, Edith Wharton spoke of Anna Bahlmann as "my beloved German teacher, who saw which way my fancy turned, and fed it with all the wealth of German literature, from the Minnesingers to Heine" (A Backward Glance, Lib. of America edn., p.820). In the following decades, Anna Catherine became Edith's confidant, critical reader and literary assistant. Bahlmann's influence on Wharton has remained unknown, but is richly documented in their extensive and entirely unpublished correspondence, which spans 1874 to Bahlmann's death in 1916. Its discovery permits significant new insights into the life and and literary work of Wharton.

The introduction to the Letters, ed. R.W.B. and Nancy Lewis, refers to "the oldest surviving" Wharton letter, dated 23 September 1874. The earliest letter in the Bahlmann archive (31 May 1874), pre-dates it by four months. "Almost twenty years must pass," the Lewises write, "before another letter by Edith Wharton comes into view." Remarkably, over forty of Wharton's letters in the Bahlmann archive are dated before 1894, thus filling in a major gap in Wharton's extant correspondence.

The early letters are filled with enthusiasm for her reading, which includes Daniel Deronda, Middlemarch, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Longfellow's "Masque of Pandora," Edward Bulwer (whose work she disliked), the Eddas, Marlowe's Faustus, the Niebelungen, Milton, Shelley and Lowell's blank verse. "You are my supreme critic in these matters," she tells Bahlmann (10/17ca.1879). She notes when her own work is published, like an early sonnet, "St. Martin's Summer," for Scribner's; four poems for Atlantic (10/16/79), her popular "The Fulness of Life" (8/18/1891), a story "That Good May Come" (11/15/93) recalling "the hours we spent in writing it out together"; remarks that the The House of Mirth is having "unprecedented success" in the Revue de Paris (12/18/1907), and in a letter of 8/16/1913 asks Bahlmannn to suggest revisions of Custom of the Country.

[Read the rest at the above link. The letters went for $182,500]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Mount in Victoria Magazine

In the comments section on the post for getting The Mount on the quarter, Gina noted that Victoria magazine has a photo spread on The Mount--thanks for letting us know!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Edith Wharton and American Psycho

Walter Benn Michaels at Book Forum:

If American Psycho harks back to the great novels of Edith Wharton—novels of manners in which the hierarchy of the social order is always what’s at stake—The Wire is like a reinvention of Zola or Dreiser for a world in which the deification of the market is going out rather than coming in. Although, of course, you had to pay the HBO subscription fee to watch it.