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She’s a tiger-cat!

Miranda Seymour: Birds’ claw omelettes with Vernon Lee, 22 January 2004

Vernon LeeA Literary Biography 
by Vineta Colby.
Virginia, 387 pp., £32.50, May 2003, 0 8139 2158 9
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... kiss from the intelligent, abrasive and mannishly attired châtelaine of Il Palmerino in Fiesole. Vernon Lee, as Violet Paget was widely known, was then in her early forties. She had recently lost both her mother, from whom she had received scant affection, and the company of her most faithful woman friend, a tweedy, kind-hearted dog-lover called Kit ...

Water on the Brain

Dinah Birch: Spurious Ghosts, 30 November 2023

‘The Virgin of the Seven Daggers’ and Other Stories 
by Vernon Lee, edited by Aaron Worth.
Oxford, 352 pp., £7.99, September 2022, 978 0 19 883754 1
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... stories carried warnings, admonitions or silent appeals for justice. Violet Paget, who wrote as Vernon Lee, learned from this body of writing, and from Gaskell especially. But the moral drive of High Victorian literature was alien to her, and she confounded the expectations that had formed around supernatural fiction written by women. Spiritual ...


Karl Miller, 2 April 1987

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories 
by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert.
Oxford, 504 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 0 19 214163 5
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The Ghost Stories of M.R. James 
by Michael Cox.
Oxford, 224 pp., £12.45, November 1986, 9780192122551
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Supernatural Tales 
by Vernon Lee.
Peter Owen, 222 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 7206 0680 2
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The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural 
edited by Jack Sullivan.
Viking, 482 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 670 80902 0
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Ghostly Populations 
by Jack Matthews.
Johns Hopkins, 171 pp., £11.75, March 1987, 0 8018 3391 4
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... human sinfulness: ‘greedy loves and greedy hates’. Hamlet walks in the Supernatural Tales of Vernon Lee, alias Violet Paget, a friend of James, and of friends of his including Edith Wharton. Her supernatural vein would appear to be an embellishment and burlesque of the 18th-century Italy imagined by this pioneer art historian (and pacifist). One of ...

At Tate Britain

Brian Dillon: Queer British Art, 7 September 2017

... Convention’, we find John Singer Sargent’s 1881 portrait of an austerely boyish Vernon Lee, and Alvaro Guevara’s Dame Edith Sitwell from 1916. Laura Knight, three years earlier, had been condemned by the Telegraph for a self-portrait with a nude model that lacked ‘the higher charm of the “eternal feminine”’. A few such notable ...

Into Thin Air

Marina Warner: Science at the Séances, 3 October 2002

The Invention of Telepathy 
by Roger Luckhurst.
Oxford, 334 pp., £35, June 2002, 0 19 924962 8
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... with someone or something, as in sympathy, the ‘Pathetic Fallacy’ or, in the coinage of Vernon Lee which Luckhurst discusses, empathy. Myers saw love as the basis of all telepathy, and his own life-story, complicated by disavowed bisexuality, melancholia and even unacknowledged fraudulence (including plagiarism), constantly raises the matter of ...

Is everybody’s life like this?

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Amy Levy, 16 November 2000

Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters 
by Linda Hunt Beckman.
Ohio, 331 pp., £49, May 2000, 0 8214 1329 5
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... The best-known object of her affections seems to have been the novelist and aesthetician Vernon Lee, to whom she obliquely declared herself in two love poems included in a letter of 1886. ‘You are something of an electric battery to me … & I am getting faint fr. want of contact!’ she wrote a few months later; but ...

A Little ‘Foreign’

P.N. Furbank: Iris Origo, 27 June 2002

Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val d’Orcia 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Murray, 351 pp., £22, October 2000, 0 7195 5672 4
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... It was here, amid the Anglo-Florentine colony – the Berensons, the Actons, Janet Ross, Vernon Lee, with their house-guests such as Edith Wharton and Percy Lubbock – that Iris spent her girlhood. It was a society with a raging appetite for gossip, and before long Sybil had become almost their favourite subject: her dazzling wardrobe, her ...

Our Jewels, Our Pictures

Freya Johnston: Michael Field’s Diary, 1 June 2023

Chains of Love and Beauty: The Diary of Michael Field 
by Carolyn Dever.
Princeton, 261 pp., £30, July 2022, 978 0 691 20344 7
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... Spencer ‘speaks like a man whose every sentence is connected with a general principle’; Vernon Lee ‘is like a museum, rather untidily arranged’; Yeats has ‘a smile like an atmosphere’. Dever argues with some ingenuity that we should regard Works and Days as a novel, but she also concedes, with good humour, that this approach quite ...

Where’s the omelette?

Tom Nairn: Patrick Wright, 23 October 2008

Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War 
by Patrick Wright.
Oxford, 488 pp., £18.99, October 2007, 978 0 19 923150 8
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... will in its due time lead us into another world’. Wright’s heroine in much of the narrative is Vernon Lee (whose real name was Violet Paget), an expatriate Briton who was, as one obituarist declared, ‘cosmopolitan from her birth, without any single national tie or sympathy’. She denounced the nationalistic divisions between Germany and the ...

The Wives of Herr Bear

Julia Briggs: Jane Harrison, 21 September 2000

The Invention of Jane Harrison 
by Mary Beard.
Harvard, 229 pp., £23.50, July 2000, 0 674 00212 1
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... of Sapphism lay all about her. Sellers was a close friend and even lived for a while with Vernon Lee, a well-known writer and 1890s’ aesthete whose love of women was no secret. And Harrison’s final years were spent in Paris with Mirrlees, whose first novel dramatises Sapphist circles, though it is set in the 17th century to disguise any ...

Maisie’s Sisters

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Sargent’s Daughters, 5 August 2010

Sargent’s Daughters: The Biography of a Painting 
by Erica Hirshler.
MFA, 262 pp., £23.95, October 2009, 978 0 87846 742 6
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... image, 20th-century viewers were inclined to remark on its air of tension and unease – what Vernon Lee aptly termed the ‘crispation de nerfs’ in the painter’s work. In 1985, one art historian, David Lubin, turned the picture into an occasion for some psychosexual fantasising. Lubin also tried to answer the riddle Sargent had posed by ...

Under the Brush

Peter Campbell: Ingres-flesh, 4 March 1999

Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch 
edited by Gary Tinterow and Philip Conisbee.
Abrams, 500 pp., £55, January 1999, 0 300 08653 9
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Velázquez: The Technique of Genius 
by Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido.
Yale, 213 pp., £29.95, November 1998, 0 300 07293 7
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... indeed, the sketch which works is often more striking than anything finished – the portrait of Vernon Lee which Sargent threw off in a couple of hours is admired more than many of his full-dress numbers. Anything which interrupts the pure business of transcription, any attempt to do it from memory, will take away some of the freshness. It’s not ...

Bringing it home to Uncle Willie

Frank Kermode, 6 May 1982

Joseph Conrad: A Biography 
by Roger Tennant.
Sheldon Press, 276 pp., £12.50, January 1982, 0 85969 358 9
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Edward Garnett: A Life in Literature 
by George Jefferson.
Cape, 350 pp., £12.50, April 1982, 0 224 01488 9
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The Edwardian Novelists 
by John Batchelor.
Duckworth, 251 pp., £18, February 1982, 0 7156 1109 7
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The Uses of Obscurity: The Fiction of Early Modernism 
by Allon White.
Routledge, 190 pp., £12, August 1981, 0 7100 0751 5
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... that the unconscious is omitted from the representation. He rather curiously selects Lombroso and Vernon Lee as typically symptomatic readers, and The Interpretation of Dreams, so decisive for all later interpretations of interpretation, came a bit late for his purposes. Arthur Symons observed in 1898 that ‘it is not natural to be what is called ...

He is cubic!

Tom Stammers: Wagnerism, 4 August 2022

Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music 
by Alex Ross.
Fourth Estate, 769 pp., £14.99, September 2021, 978 0 00 842294 3
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... into Carter’s ‘private opera house of the individual sensibility’. In an essay from 1911, Vernon Lee described the knack of seeing past the individual production: imprisoned in her seat, the spectator could allow her mind to ‘divagate from the music only to the stage; not the literal stage of indifferently painted lath and pasteboard, with its ...

The Italianness of it all

Tessa Hadley: Iris Origo, 24 May 2018

Images and Shadows: Part of a Life 
by Iris Origo.
Pushkin, 384 pp., £12.99, February 2017, 978 1 78227 266 3
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War in Val d’Orcia 
by Iris Origo.
Pushkin, 320 pp., £9.99, February 2017, 978 1 78227 265 6
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A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary 1939-40 
by Iris Origo.
Pushkin, 200 pp., £14.99, October 2017, 978 1 78227 355 4
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A Study in Solitude: The Life of Leopardi 
by Iris Origo.
Pushkin, 416 pp., £12.99, June 2017, 978 1 78227 268 7
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The Last Attachment 
by Iris Origo.
Pushkin, 576 pp., £12.99, June 2017, 978 1 78227 267 0
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... among them) and some with less. Bernard Berenson, Janet Ross (Leaves from Our Tuscan Kitchen) and Vernon Lee were their near neighbours and friends. In Florence there were English banks and English doctors, English shops where you could buy tea and mackintoshes. This art-loving, literary Anglo-American community in Italy had complex relationships with ...

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