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Edith Wharton, Privacy, and Publicity

By Jessica Bulman


\u22It\u27s the woman\u27s soul, absolutely torn up by the roots-her whole self laid bare .... I don\u27t mean to read another line; it\u27s too much like listening at a keyhole.\u22 When Mrs. Touchett speaks these words in Edith Wharton\u27s 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 \u22unloved letters\u22 as Mrs. Touchett characterizes them) promise to reveal the private truth of a woman\u27s 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\u27s life, or even to Wharton\u27s. Indeed, The Touchstone presciently anticipates questions of privacy, publicity, and personality that would underlie Wharton\u27s mature fiction, her interpersonal relationships, and her very conception of herself. By probing these issues through the lens of an author\u27s 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

Topics: Law
Publisher: Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository
Year: 2015
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