Lee, Vernon

BORN 14 Oct 1856, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais: Château St Leonard - DIED 13 Feb 1935, Maiano, Toscana: Villa Il Palmerino, via dell Palmerino (near Firenze)
BIRTH NAME Paget, Violet
GRAVE LOCATION Firenze, Toscana: Cimitero Evangelico Agli Allori, Via Senese 184, Galluzo (2PPsSA V 20u (ashes))

Vewrnon Lee was born as Violet Paget near Boulogne sur Mer. Her parents were British and her father Henry Ferguson Paget was the teacher of her half brother Eugene. Her mother Matilda Adams married Paget after her first husband captain Lee-Hamilton died.

During her youth she travelled with her parents in Europe and eventually she settled in Florence. "Les Aventures d'une Pièce de Monnaie" by her hand was published in a Swiss newspaper in 1870 when she was only thirteen. She befriended Cornelia Boinville who had attracted the attention of Percy Bysshe Shelley back in 1814. Another childhood friend was John Singer Sargent, who painted her portrait in 1881. After her brother fell ill in 1873 she supported him for years during the 1870s and 1880s.

In 1875 she decided to use the name H.P. Vernon-Lee for her writings with the intention to hide the fact that she was a woman. Initially Vernon Lee wrote in French and Italian but during her life her audience was mainly British. She made herself a name as a critic with "Studies of The Eighteenth Century in Italy" (1880). In 1881 she visited England for the first time and there she met the J.M. Whistler, W. Pater and other famous people. When her father died in 1894 she saw to it that he was cremated according to his own wishes and she never told her mother that he wasn't buried in the family grave. In 1894 her brother recovered. He moved to Canada and the USA and he married the novelist Annie E. Holdsworth. At the time of his death in 1907 he was estranged from his half-sister.

She wrote books about the Italian Renaissance and also essays and novels. Her trilogy "The Waster" (1920) shows her believe in pacifism. In her short fiction she wrote about hauntings and posessions and Montague Summers considered her a master of the supernatural in fiction and included her work in his anthologies.

She was believed to be a lesbian because of her passionate friendship with the poet Agnes Mary Robinson and it was also assumed that she had a romantic relationship with the author Kit Anstruther-Thompson around 1890. She lived from 1889 until her death at the Villa Il Palmerina in Florence. In 1906 she bought the villa. During the First World War she resided in England, but in 1920 she returned to Italy. She received a honorary doctorate from the Unversity of Durham in 1924. In 1934 she visited England for the last time and on 13 Feb 1935 she died at home.

Related persons
• was a friend of Boinville, Cornelia
• was visited by Huxley, Aldous
• is half-brother/half-sister of Lee-Hamilton, Eugene
• was a friend of Pater, Walter
• was a friend of Sargent, John Singer
• was painted by Sargent, John Singer
• was admired by Summers, Montague
• met Whistler, James MacNeill
• met Wilde, Oscar

10/7/1883Vernon Lee has a talk with Edward Burne-Jones. In a letter to her mother Matilda she wrote that she was at a dull diner with the Stephens, but that she had a long talk with Burne-Jones about Mrs Stillman who was the most beautiful woman Burne-Jones had ever seen. He also told her he admired the novelist Ouida greatly. [Burne-Jones, Edward][Ouida][Spartali Stillman, Marie]


The grave of Vernon Lee (Violet Paget) and Eugene Lee-Hamilton at the Cimitero Evangelico Agli Allori, Florence.
Picture by androom (04 Feb 2011)


The grave of Vernon Lee (Violet Paget) at the the Cimitero Evangelico Agli Allori, Florence.
Picture by androom (04 Feb 2011)


Portrait of Vernon Lee by John Singer Sargent.
Picture by Androom (29 May 2014)


• Browning, D.C. (editor), Dictionary of Literary biography, Dent, London, 1958
• Gagel, Amanda, Selected Letters of Vernon Lee, 1856 - 1935, Volume I, 1865-1884, Routledge, 2016
Vernon Lee - Wikipedia

Leeb, Wilhelm, Ritter von

Published: 13 Mar 2011
Last update: 20 May 2023