Vernon Lee: A Literary Biography (Victorian Literature and Culture Series)

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9780813921587: Vernon Lee: A Literary Biography (Victorian Literature and Culture Series)

Vernon Lee, born Violet Paget in 1856 to English parents who lived on the Continent, bridged two worlds and many cultures. She was a Victorian by birth but lived into the second quarter of the twentieth century. Her chosen home was Italy, but she spent part of every year in England, where she published over the years an impressive number of books: novels, short stories, travel essays, studies of Italian art and music, psychological aesthetics, polemics. She was widely recognized as a woman of letters and moved freely in major literary and social circles, meeting and at times having close friendships with a huge number of the major writers and intellectuals of her time, among them Robert Browning, Walter Pater, Henry James, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Bernard Berenson, and Mario Praz. Although she never committed herself to one program of political activism, she was an advocate for feminism and social reform and during World War I was an ardent pacifist. In her last years she watched with dismay the emergence of fascism.

Vernon Lee: A Literary Biography recovers this crowded and intellectually eventful life from her previously unpublished letters and journals, as well as from her books themselves. Vineta Colby also explores Lee’s troubled personal life, from her childhood in an eccentric expatriate family to her several unhappy love affairs with women to her frank recognition that her work, brilliant as some of it was, remained unappreciated. Through it all, Vernon Lee clung to her faith in the life of the mind, and through Colby’s engaging biographical narrative, she emerges today as a writer worthy of renewed attention and admiration.

Victorian Literature and Culture Series

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About the Author:

Vineta Colby, Professor Emerita of English, Queens College, City University of New York, is the author of The Singular Anomaly: Women Novelists of the Nineteenth Century and Yesterday’s Woman: Domestic Realism in the English Novel, and coauthor with Robert A. Colby of The Equivocal Virtue: Mrs. Oliphant and the Victorian Literary Marketplace. She is also the editor of three volumes in the World Authors series and the coeditor of European Authors: 1000–1900.


Vernon Lee wrote over forty books during her lifetime; she wrote in virtually every genre, and about the entire range of intellectually and morally challenging subjects that faced educated men and women of her time. She also knew everybody, spoke four languages fluently, and was a major contributor to debates on aesthetics and art at the turn of the century. Vernon Lee will be an invaluable resource to all of us who are fascinated with Lee and her life, and for any literary critic interested in the transition from the Victorian period to the modernist period.

(Martha Vicinus, University of Michigan, editor of Lesbian Subjects: A Feminist Studies Reader and Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778–1928)

[E]xactly the kind of serious, fair, purposeful life story that Lee demands.. [S]ucceeds in bringing this unlikely story to life in a way which is fascinating and satisfying.

(Times Literary Supplement)

Highly recommended.


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