Vernon Lee was the pseudonym of the British writer Violet Paget .She is remembered today primarily for her supernatural fiction and her work on aesthetics. An early follower of Walter Pater, she wrote over a dozen volumes of essays on art, music, and travel.
Violet Paget was born in France on 14 October 1856, at Château St Leonard, Boulogne, to British expatriate parents, Henry Ferguson Paget and Matilda Lee-Hamilton . Violet Paget was the half-sister of Eugene Jacob Lee-Hamilton (1845–1907) by her mother's first marriage, and from whose surname she adapted her own pseudonym. Although she primarily wrote for an English readership and made many visits to London, she spent the majority of her life on the continent, particularly in Italy. Her longest residence was just outside Florence in the Palmerino villa from 1889 until her death at San Gervasio, with a brief interruption during World War I. Her library was left to the British Institute of Florence and can still be inspected by visitors. In Florence she knit lasting friendships with the painter Telemaco Signorini and the learned Mario Praz, and she encouraged his love of learning and English literature.
An engaged feminist, she always dressed à la garçonne. During the First World War, Lee adopted strong pacifist views, and was a member of the anti-militarist organisation, the Union of Democratic Control. Scholars speculate that Lee was a lesbian, and had long-term intense relationships with three women, Mary Robinson, Clementina Anstruther-Thomson, and British author, Amy Levy. Lee however, in addition to taking on the name Vernon in her private life, resisted being mislabeled as a lesbian by her own peers.
She played the harpsichord and her appreciation of music animates her first major work, Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy (1880). In her preface to the second edition of 1907, she recalled her excitement as a girl when she came across a bundle of 18th-century music. She was so nervous that it wouldn't live up to her expectations that she escaped to the garden and listened rapturously through an open window as her mother worked out the music on the piano. Along with Pater and John Addington Symonds, she was considered an authority on the Italian Renaissance, and wrote two works that dealt with it explicitly, Euphorion (1884) and Renaissance Fancies and Studies (1895).
The English writer and translator Montague Summers described Vernon Lee as "the greatest of modern exponents of the supernatural in fiction." Summers also compared Lee's work to that of M. R. James. E. F. Bleiler has claimed that "Lee's stories are really in a category by themselves. Intelligent, amusingly ironic, imaginative, original, they deserve more than the passing attention that they have attracted". Neil Barron described the contents of Lee's collection Hauntings thus "The stories are powerful and very striking, among the finest of their kind."
Books by Vernon Lee
A Phantom Lover
A Phantom Lover is a supernatural novella by Vernon Lee (pseudonym of Violet Paget) first published in 1886. Set in a Kentish manor house, the story concerns a portrait painter commissioned by a squire, William Oke, to produce portraits of him and hi...