Jessica Bulman


"It's the woman's soul, absolutely torn up by the roots-her whole self laid bare .... I don't mean to read another line; it's too much like listening at a keyhole." When Mrs. Touchett speaks these words in Edith Wharton's early novella, The Touchstone, we may wonder whether Wharton is mocking her own voyeuristic readership and grappling with her tenuous privacy as a professional female author. Despite her protestations, Mrs. Touchett has relished reading the letters of Mrs. Aubyn, a deceased novelist whose former lover, Stephen Glennard, has published her correspondence. It is precisely because these love letters (or "unloved letters" as Mrs. Touchett characterizes them) promise to reveal the private truth of a woman's life that they have become such a sensational bestseller. Perhaps avenging the version of herself that is Mrs. Aubyn, Wharton refuses to show her own readers the published letters, but she has sparked our curiosity, which instead clings to Glennard's life, or even to Wharton's. Indeed, The Touchstone presciently anticipates questions of privacy, publicity, and personality that would underlie Wharton's mature fiction, her interpersonal relationships, and her very conception of herself. By probing these issues through the lens of an author's intimate correspondence, she both gestures to her own concerns about privacy as a female writer and enters a raging legal debate launched a decade earlier.

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