As Goldman-Price's impressive collection demonstrates, however, a hitherto obscure but clearly talented and dedicated pedagogue, Anna Catherine Bahlmann, contributed significantly to the transformation of Pussy Jones, a precocious child of a dysfunctional aristocratic New York family, into Edith Wharton, a formidable artist and the toast of the turn-of-the-century literary world.
The child of German immigrants, who overcame much personal and economic hardship, Bahlmann became a governess employed by a number of wealthy New York families at the time when the education of girls was limited to a painstaking preparation for a society debut and subsequent marriage. Often the sole source of these young women's intellectual development, Bahlmann obviously possessed considerable gifts of her own. It is a testament to Bahlmann's talents that, until her death in , she remained Wharton's companion, first as a teacher who instilled in the young woman a love for literature and the German language and supported her passion for art history, and then as a personal friend and secretary, who faithfully copied the budding author's work.
Bahlmann also befriended Wharton's unhappy, unstable husband, Teddy Wharton, and her support no doubt contributed to Wharton's ability to continue to be productive and creative in the course--and in the face--of this tragically suffocating marriage. Wharton's letters to her "Tonnie" touch on a range of subjects, from Italian art to complicated and often painful familial and marital matters, to holiday presents and winter dresses. This collection of letters currently archived at the Beinecke Library of Yale University is about education.
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Wharton led an increasingly public existence as the grande dame of American letters in the first half of the 20th century but documentation of her early years has been patchy. Edith Newbold Jones was born into an aristocratic, wealthy New York family and raised to be a debutante; the standard story, first told by Wharton in A Backward Glance, is that the Jones familyalternated between indifference and outright hostility to her literary interests. Her mother, in particular, is the villain of the tale; Lucretia Jones is portrayed as a cold, unimaginative and rigidly conventional mother, who forbade the reading of novels and did her best to denyher daughter an education.
The German-speaking Bahlmann was initially hired as a language tutor but soon was instructing her year-old charge in German literature.
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