- Wharton and Cather
Scholarship is flourishing in this 150th anniversary year of Edith Wharton’s birth. A landmark publication of letters from Wharton to her governess and secretary, Anna Bahlmann, adds significantly to knowledge about Wharton’s adolescence, literary apprenticeship, married life, and professional pursuits. A notable collection of original essays places her life and writing in historical context. Work this year reflects renewed interest in biography, with attention to Wharton’s “Love Diary,” need for privacy, and views of popular culture. Scholars analyze the major novels—The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence, and Summer—as well as shorter fiction through a variety of critical lenses. Interest in the late work continues, especially in modernism, with strong defense of the relevance and quality of Wharton’s 1920s and 1930s novels. Theoretically sophisticated analyses employ approaches ranging from psychoanalysis and deconstruction to animal studies.
Critical work on Willa Cather continues to reflect the transformations that have been ongoing since the late 1980s. Joan Acocella’s 1995 New Yorker article “Willa Cather and the Academy,” subsequently transformed into her pointed Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism (see AmLS 2000, p. 130), is probably the best marker here. While Cather’s works have not been made into historical costume films, as some of Wharton’s have, it is clear that Cather is becoming more mainstream. Increased general interest since Acocella’s New Yorker piece has been complemented by concurrent scholarly publication, often based on newly acquired primary materials that have been added to various [End Page 109] archives, especially that of Cather’s own alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The major 2012 publications are indicative of what is happening: another volume in the University of Nebraska Press scholarly edition of Cather’s works, The Song of the Lark (1915), ed. Ann Moseley and Kari A. Ronning; Christine E. Kephart’s The Catherian Cathedral; two collections of essays; a slender group of essays appearing in journals; and two book chapters. Topics include Cather as a poet, her environmental concerns, and specific studies of One of Ours and The Professor’s House.
The Wharton section of this chapter is contributed by Carol J. Singley, the Cather section by Robert Thacker.
i Edith Wharton
A remarkable collection of letters, My Dear Governess: The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann, eloquently introduced and meticulously edited by Irene Goldman-Price (Yale), increases from 3 to 135 the known surviving letters between Wharton and her governessturned-companion-and-secretary, Anna Bahlmann. The letters, spanning 40 years, trace Wharton’s intellectual and artistic development in exquisite detail; document affection and mutual esteem between two extraordinarily intelligent women; and chart the impact of age, gender, and class on the relationship. They confirm Wharton’s erudition and ambition; they also correct misconceptions about family life and the development of her art. Contrary to Wharton’s claim of selfmade authorship, Goldman-Price shows that her parents took an active interest in her writing, recording and copying as well as publishing her poetry, the genre she might easily have pursued instead of fiction. Wharton and Bahlmann read poetry in French, German, Italian, and English together; under Bahlmann’s direction, Wharton studied history, art, and architecture. Bahlmann served as literary adviser, helping Wharton with translation and interpretation and offering critiques of her poems. In the mid-1880s Wharton sent Bahlmann descriptions of her travels throughout Europe, practice exercises for material that would appear in her travel books. Bahlmann later helped the Whartons arrange housing, assisted Teddy Wharton as his mental illness worsened, typed manuscripts, and handled correspondence. The volume is a treasure trove for scholars and general readers, who for the first time have intimate details about one of Wharton’s most formative relationships. [End Page 110]
Laura Rattray’s engaging collection Edith Wharton in Context (Cambridge) is a valuable resource for scholars, teachers, and general readers. Positioning Wharton in a time of tremendous social change, the contributed short essays, organized into seven sections, address biography, critical reception, publishing history, arts, design, historical events, and literary movements. In the opening section, “Life and Work,” Rattray traces evolving understanding of...