Vernon Lee

Vernon Lee (pseudonym of Violet Paget1856 – 1935) was a British writer.

Born in France to cosmopolitan British parents, she lived most of her life in Italy. Vernon Lee maintained an androgynous appearance and adopted a masculine pseudonym for her publications. She was a feminist and a fervent pacifist, and had long-term love relationships with Mary Robinson, Clementina Anstruther-Thomson, and Amy Levy.

According to Lee’s biographer Vineta Colby, “she was too late to be a Victorian, too early to be a Modernist.” In a letter to his brother William James, Henry James wrote about Vernon Lee: “(…) she is as dangerous and uncanny as she is intelligent—which is saying a great deal. Her vigour and sweep of intellect are most rare and her talk superior altogether, but I don’t agree with you at all about her ‘style,’  (…) There is a great second-rate element in her first-rateness. At any rate, draw it mild with her on the question of friendship. She’s a tiger-cat”.

Virginia Woolf, who had an ambiguous view of Vernon Lee’s writing style, included her nonetheless in a female pantheon on her essay A Room of One’s Own: “There are Jane Harrison’s books on Greek archaeology; Vernon Lee’s books on aesthetics; Gertrude Bell’s books on Persia. There are books on all sorts of subjects which a generation ago no woman could have touched.” Woolf also wrote, in  Portraits: “I never spoke to her. But in a sense, the true sense, I who love beauty always feel, I knew Vernon Lee.”

Books

Novels

  • The Prince of the Hundred Soups: A Puppet Show in Narrative (1883)
  • Miss Brown (1884)
  • Penelope Brandling: A Tale of the Welsh Coast in the Eighteenth Century (1903)
  • Louis Norbert. A Twofold Romance (1914)

Novellas

  • Ottilie: An Eighteenth Century Idyl (1883)
  • A Phantom Lover: A Fantastic Story (1886)
  • The Legend of Madame Krasinska (1903)

Short stories

  • Hauntings. Fantastic Stories (1890)
  • Vanitas: Polite Stories (1892)
  • Pope Jacynth – And Other Fantastic Tales (1904)
  • Ravenna and Her Ghosts (1907)
  • For Maurice. Five Unlikely Stories (1927)
  • Snake Lady and Other Stories (1954, posthumously published)
  • Supernatural Tales (1955, posthumously published)
  • The Virgin of the Seven Daggers – And Other Chilling Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1962, posthumously published)

Drama

  • Ariadne in Mantua: a Romance in Five Acts (1903)
  • Satan the Waster: A Philosophic War Trilogy (1920)

Nonfiction

  • Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy (1880)
  • Belcaro, Being Essays on Sundry Aesthetical Questions (1881)
  • The Countess of Albany (1884)
  • Euphorion: Being Studies of the Antique and the Mediaeval in the Renaissance (1884)
  • Baldwin: Being Dialogues on Views and Aspirations (1886)
  • Juvenilia, Being a second series of essays on sundry aesthetical questions (1887)
  • Althea: Dialogues on Aspirations & Duties (1894)
  • Renaissance Fancies And Studies Being A Sequel To Euphorion (1895)
  • Art and Life (1896)
  • Limbo and Other Essays (1897)
  • Genius Loci: Notes on Places (1899)
  • The Child In The Vatican (1900)
  • In Umbria: A Study of Artistic Personality (1901)
  • Chapelmaster Kreisler A Study of Musical Romanticists (1901)
  • Hortus Vitae: Essays on the Gardening of life (1903)
  • The Enchanted Woods, and Other Essays on the Genius of Places (1905)
  • Sister Benvenuta and the Christ Child, an eighteenth-century legend (1906)
  • The Spirit of Rome: Leaves from a Diary (1906)
  • The Sentimental Traveller. Notes on Places (1908)
  • Gospels of Anarchy & Other Contemporary Studies (1908)
  • Laurus Nobilis: Chapters on Art and Life (1909)
  • In Praise of Old Gardens (1912)
  • Beauty and Ugliness and Other Studies in Psychological Aesthetics (1912)
  • Vital Lies: Studies of Some Varieties of Recent Obscurantism (1912)
  • The Beautiful. An Introduction to Psychological Aesthetics (1913)
  • The Tower of the Mirrors and Other Essays on the Spirit of Places (1914)
  • The Ballet of the Nations. A Present-Day Morality (1915)
  • The Handling of Words and Other Studies in Literary Psychology (1923)
  • Proteus or The Future Of Intelligence (1925)
  • The Golden Keys and Other Essays on the Genius Loci (1925)
  • The Poet’s Eye, Notes on Some Differences Between Verse and Prose (1926)
  • Music and its Lovers: An Empirical Study of Emotional and Imaginative Responses to Music (1932)

About her

  • Selected Letters of Vernon Lee, 1856 – 1935: Volumes I-III, by Amanda Gagel (2015-2017)
  • Spurious Ghosts: The Fantastic Tales of Vernon Lee, by Mary Patricia Kane (2004)
  • Vernon Lee: A Literary Biography, by Vineta Colby (2003)
  • The Lesbian Imagination (Victorian style): A psychological and critical study of “Vernon Lee”, by Burdett Gardner (1987)
  • Vernon Lee: Violet Paget, 1856–1935, by Peter Gunn (1964)
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