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Elisina Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, September 10, 1923

21, Quai Bourbon
Gobelins 31-33
September 10th 1923Monday.

Dearest Mildred,

I have just finished Edith’s last book,Edith Wharton, A Son at the Front (London: Macmillan, and New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1923). and my very first impulse is to send you a copy. On this day, of all days, which is the seventh anniversary of my darling G.’s death,Gerard Grant Richards, Elisina’s son, was killed on September 12, 1916. It is unclear why Elisina Tyler recalls the date as September 10, 1916. the last pages of her book have searched my heart so that it would have been unbearable torture, if she were not gifted with an almost miraculous sense of the dignity and real humanity of suffering. By real humanity I mean, that our sufferings draw us closer to those through whom we suffer, and death is a link, not severance.A Son at the Front (1923) concerns a group of American expatriates in Paris and patriotic French nationals during the First World War and centers around George Campton, the French-born son of an American painter, and his duty to fight in the war. George is killed during his second tour of duty at the front, leaving his father to reconcile himself with his son’s sacrifice in defense of civilization. Dinah Birch, in the London Review of Books 18, no. 5 (March 7, 1996): 21, characterized the novel as follows: “A Son at the Front, [Wharton’s] bleakest and most deeply felt response [to the war], was begun in the spring of 1918. . . . When the novel finally appeared in 1923, it was widely disliked. . . . Wharton’s was a women’s war, to do with tension and relentless dreariness rather than the gruesome spectacle of battle. She wrote about waiting wives and parents, the dispossessed refugees, those whose livelihood had disappeared overnight. . . . One of the ways in which this novel is most representative of her work is in its unflinching confrontation with forms of renunciation and damage. . . . Oddly enough, this account of destruction . . . can be read as a qualified affirmation of faith, soberly made and very grimly earned.”

You are so much in my thoughts always at this particular time, because those days without memories are shot through with a feeling of your presence, of your goodness, of your compassion—

Royall claimed the privilege of writing to you to say that Antigny is ours,See letter of September 5, 1923. and I hope you approve of our having taken it when the gods seemed to relent. I have workmen there now, cleaning and scraping, and in two or three years’ time the house should be fit to be seen. But before that I hope you will come and see it. The rez-de-chaussée“Ground floor.” will be about as inhabitable as GenayBeginning in 1913, the Tylers rented the Château de Genay in the small village of Genay near Semur-en-Auxois in Burgundy. The house was originally built in the late sixteenth century and was situated on a park that bordered the river Armançon, a tributary of the Yonne. was, in about six weeks’ time. We have brought to light a fine heavy-moulded early door to the chapel, concealed by a lean-to [word or words not transcribed from the original letter]Several of the autograph letters of Elisina Tyler were not included in William Royall Tyler’s gift of the Bliss-Tyler correspondence to Harvard University (see The Early Letters (1902–1908), note 1). At Harvard, these letters exist only in typed transcriptions where foreign words and phrases from the original letters are often not transcribed. between two buttresses. I shall call it Mildred’s door, as it looked at you, unsuspected, through a chink in an oaken shutter, on the day you took us there with you in the autumn of 1916.

Dearest Mildred, I am sending you a copy of my report to the Austrian Minister on my work in Vienna.E. Royall Tyler, “Rapport sur l’oeuvre du ‘Viennese Children’s Fund,’” July 6, 1923 (16 pages). A copy of this report is in the Inventaire des papiers de Maurice Frère, gouverneur de la Banque Nationale de Belgique / R. Wellens, Algemeen Rijksarchief / Archives generals du Royaume, Brussels, no. 248. See also “Relief for Viennese Children,” New York Times, November 18, 1922. In this letter to the editor, Elisina Tyler solicits American contributions to the Franco-American Committee of the Viennese Children’s Fund and states that in 1921–1922 the fund “assisted 2,764,940 cases of suffering and want.” I hope it may interest you, and if you feel that in spite of your many interests and commitments you can give me some help, I should be most proud and grateful.

I hear from New York that it is useless to try to publish and circulate fresh appeals till October, which means no results till December. Meantime the Children’s Hospital, and a Children’s Sanatorium at Alt. Olbendorf are in immediate danger of closing down. Also I have received a very strenuous appeal from the students who have no money to buy books, but who could print off the Professors’ lectures and work on those, if they could buy an American printing-machine, of which I have the circular, costing 400 dollars. In all, to save 350 beds from closing down, and to give the Law, History, and Medicine schools their means to study, two thousand dollars would be required. I have written to Vienna to say that I would ask for help, though I could not promise it. The political stability and the improved outlook, which are the result of the League of Nations’ scheme, have not, alas decreased suffering, as many families who were state-pensioned are now without resources, and the cost of food has increased, and remained fixed at about the equivalent of French prices.Various film clips from 1923 document Viennese children suffering from tuberculosis. The films were produced in English in an effort to raise money for the sanatoriums. See film clips at Critical Past.

Goodbye darling Mildred. Did Robert receive the two volumes, “Livre Noir”René Marchand, Un livre noir, diplomatie d’avant-guerre d’après les documents des archives russes, november 1910–juillet 1914, 2 vols. (Paris: Librarie du travail, 1922 and 1923).—which I sent him about a month ago?

Fondest love from your Bourguignon, and from your

ever devoted

Associated People: Edith Wharton; Gerard Grant Richards