10th Anniversary Annual Meeting of the IVLS – Villa Il Palmerino, Florence, September 9, 2023

Sabato 9 settembre 2023, si è tenuto il nostro decimo incontro annuale presso Villa Il Palmerino, a Firenze: casa di Vernon Lee, ora sede della nostra cara associazione gemella: l’Associazione Culturale Il Palmerino. Questo evento è stato un’esperienza indimenticabile, un’occasione per celebrare la cultura e l’amicizia. Le emozioni sono state palpabili nell’atmosfera dell’incantevole villa, trasudando passione e entusiasmo per il nostro lavoro condiviso. Siamo grati per questa meravigliosa giornata che ci ha riunito in questo luogo speciale, simbolo di bellezza e conoscenza.

Un ringraziamento speciale va a Mary F. Burns, per la sua incredibile generosità. Grazie a lei e ai suoi eccellenti romanzi polizieschi Sargent-Paget! -fasci affascinanti dei suoi bellissimi acquerelli legati insieme con nastri viola e rametti di lavanda sono stati gentilmente regalati ai partecipanti durante una fantastica cena di chiusura che è stato anche sponsorizzato da Maria.

L’atmosfera speciale ha contribuito alla qualità di tutti i documenti e conversazioni, e senza dubbio ha favorito un rinnovato interesse per il lavoro di Vernon Lee, alcuni dei quali piuttosto inaspettati e mai affrontati prima-così come nell’IVLS.

La relazione morale della società è stata presentata dal Presidente e approvata, così come la presentazione del tesoriere del bilancio per il 2023. Poi c’è stata l’elezione del Consiglio. Siamo lieti di annunciare che Sophie Geoffroy è stata rieletta alla presidenza dell’IVLS. Sarà assistita da un nuovo vicepresidente: Sally Blackburn-Daniels, insieme a Shafquat Towheed, VP e Michel Prum, VP. Giovani studiosi entrano come segretari: Suzy Corrigan e Frankie Dytor. Benvenuti tutti!

Dopo la splendida e deliziosa cena nei giardini della Villa –e la torta di compleanno viola! -il momento clou della manifestazione è stata la proiezione del bellissimo film sul Balletto delle Nazioni, basato sull’opera del 1915 di Vernon Lee e rappresentato a Firenze nel 2023. “Una strana alchimia” (Stefano Vincieri)!

Attendiamo con ansia il prossimo incontro, consapevoli che questo evento ha rafforzato ancora di più i legami tra noi e ha ispirato nuove idee e progetti per il futuro!

On Saturday 9 September 2023, our tenth annual meeting was held at Villa Il Palmerino in Florence: the home of Vernon Lee, now home to our beloved sister association: the Associazione Culturale Il Palmerino. This event was an unforgettable experience, an occasion to celebrate culture and friendship. The emotions were palpable in the atmosphere of the enchanting villa, exuding passion and enthusiasm for our shared work. We are grateful for this wonderful day that brought us together in this special place, symbol of beauty and knowledge.

Special thanks are owed to Mary F. Burns, for her incredible generosity. Thanks to her –and her excellent Sargent-Paget detective novels!– charming bundles of her beautiful watercolours tied together with violet ribbons and lavender sprigs were graciously gifted to participants during a fantastic closing dinner that was also sponsored by Mary.

The special atmosphere contributed to the quality of all papers and conversations, and no doubt fostered renewed interest in Vernon Lee’s work –some of them rather unexpected and never tackled before– as well as in the IVLS.

The society’s moral report was presented by the President and approved, as well as the treasurer’s presentation of the financial statement for 2023. Then the election of the Board took place. We are delighted to announce that Sophie Geoffroy was re-elected as Chair of the IVLS. She will be assisted by a new Vice-president: Sally Blackburn-Daniels, together with Shafquat Towheed, VP and Michel Prum, VP. Younger scholars step in as Secretaries: Suzy Corrigan and Frankie Dytor. Welcome them all!

We look forward to the next meeting, aware that this event has strengthened even more the ties between us and has inspired new ideas and projects for the future!

After the splendid and delicious dinner in the gardens of the Villa –and the violet birthday cake!– the highlight of the event was the screening of the stunning film about the performance of The Ballet of the Nations, based on Vernon Lee’s 1915 play, in Florence in June 2023. Indeed, “a strange alchemy” (Stefano Vincieri).

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The Future of Intelligence in Florence, Villa Il Palmerino 8-10 september 2023

Ticket sales are open, the Eventbrite page is here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-future-of-intelligence-a-multidisciplinary-vernon-lee-conference-tickets-648328958367?utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-medium=discovery&utm-term=listing&utm-source=cp&aff=ebdsshcopyurl

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Ossessioni: a new translation of Hauntings in Italian

Ossessioni, Raccolta di raconti gotici

At long last, a translation into Italian of Vernon Lee’s best-known fantastic texts! This is great news indeed!

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Sentimental Travellers, a Retrospective -Villa Il Palmerino, 30 May-30 June 2023

Dear Readers of Vernon Lee and Friends of Il Palmerino,

we are delighted to announce the exclusive retrospective exhibition of works by Clementina Anstruther-Thomson, Vernon Lee, Federigo Angeli, Lola Costa, Thomas Watt Cafe and many others, curated by Pier-Antonio Gottardo, at the Colonica du Villa Il Palmerino in Florence: Viaggiatori Sentimentali (Sentimental Travellers).

From 30 May to 30 June, this retrospective by various authors of the last century will celebrate their vibrant expression of their attachment to the wonderful Tuscan landscape and people.

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Introducing Lee’s Grandmother: Amelia Sofia Macpherson (1776-1831)

Sally Blackburn-Daniels (@drSallyBD)

At the end of 2022 I received an incredibly exciting message via my ancestry.com account:

Hello, my name is David Devan, I live in Northeast New York, not too far from the Canadian border. I buy, sell, and sometimes just collect cool antiques when I find them here and there. I believe I own the only portrait of Amelia Sofia Adams (Macpherson) in existence. It has a print date of Dec 1795 and has her married name of Adams written on the bottom, rather than Macpherson in Dec of 1795, I’m assuming it was because she was already betrothed and was to be married next year, as history tells us (possibly even done as a wedding gift).  The print date and her name appear to be handwritten.   I found this in a local antique store for $14.  I like solving such little mysteries when I can, so for $14 I thought it cool to own such an amazing antique piece of art. When I Found out her father was a privateer, a notable citizen of the colonies, she married an East India Company Slaver, and she had a Granddaughter who was an author (who wrote under the pen name, Vernon Lee) and one who was a suffragist… it all became even cooler.  My goal is to someday convince Mount Pleasant in Philadelphia, her childhood home that her father built and eventually sold to Benedict Arnold, to hang this portrait in its halls. One of my goals is to get her image available on the best platforms possible so that generations of her family can enjoy her image.  I feel that I owe this to her since I am (as far as I can tell) the only living person who knows what she looked like, and I bear the responsibility of sharing her image.  On that note, you would make my day by adding Amelia Sophia’s pre-wedding portrait to your tree. 

David Devan

As the first of April is the one-hundred and ninety second anniversary of Amelia’s death, I wanted to share with you David’s incredible find, and a little more about Amelia’s life, and the life of Lee’s immediate ancestors.

I had opened the ancestry.com account in 2016 to map Vernon Lee’s heritage for my PhD thesis, after reading Peter Gunn’s biography of Lee. Gunn acknowledges Lee’s grandfather, Edward Hamlin Adams, was a rich man, coming from ‘an old colonial family’, ‘with extensive business interests in the West Indies, including a banking house in Jamaica’. I was curious as to what those interests might be.

During this process, I discovered that Lee’s grandmother (maternal) Amelia was born on October 22 1776 at Mount Pleasant, Philadelphia – as David explained – and died on April 1 1831 in Florence, Italy, where she is buried. She was the daughter of a privateer, who later suffered from ill health and was locked up in the family home.

Another cool fact about her that only requires a bit of math to figure out… She was conceived a colonist under the British Crown and born an American Girl… one of the very first American born citizens (by only three months).

David Devan

Amelia’s beautiful portrait shows a young woman on the threshold of a new life with her husband Edward. As I looked at it, I wondered on what wall did it hang? Amelia was an American by birth, and she married Edward on January 5 1796 in Christ Church Philadelphia when she was twenty years old. Her death in Florence, Italy came after a stint living in South Wales. Her life between her Philadelphia family home, and her life in Wales and Italy was spent in the West Indies, where her first children, Mary, Edward, Sophia, and Caroline were born in Kingston, Jamaica. Vernon Lee’s mother, Matilda Adams (1816-1896) born at Holborn St Giles in the Fields, England, was their seventh (and last) child. Did it ever leave America – and travel to Jamaica, Wales or Italy, or did it remain with her family in Philadelphia? It would be wonderful to know.

I came across glimpses of Amelia in my earlier research, which looked the ancestry of both Amelia and Edward, focusing on the Jamaican & Barbados Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1879, census records, and the Caribbean Birth Death and Marriage Index information. Edward’s family had a brutal presence in the West Indies which stretched as far back as colonial plantation settlements in the 1640s.[1] Whist there are no records showing Edward’s (Lee’s grandfather) ownership of such settlements, he undoubtedly benefitted extensively via inheritance and the family lived very comfortably. Furthermore, Edward was the trustee for the Hungerford Spooner Charlottenburg Estate in Jamaica, and a retired partner for the Kingston Merchant House in Jamaica alongside more ‘innocuous’ positions with the merchant trade, and employment as a lawyer and banker.

On Edward’s return to England after abolition he bought Middleton Hall in Carmarthenshire in 1824, with money marked by the forced labour of African slaves in the West Indies. Whilst Lee’s aristocratic lineage and her family’s lavish and indulgent lifestyle is something she obliquely returns to in her oeuvre as an antithesis to her own moral erectness, it is essential that we interrogate these links further.

Many thanks to David Devan for allowing us to share this image.

[1] The Adams’ family tree was traced back using ancestry.co.uk. The tree I have produced, including searchable Census, Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes, and other records can be found here: https://www.ancestry.co.uk/family-tree/tree/117923617/family?usePUBJs=true

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Recent Works Relevant to Lee Scholars:

Compiled by Sally Blackburn-Daniels


Heather Bozant Witcher,’Towards Empathy: Vernon Lee’s Psychological Aesthetics’, in Collaborative Writing in the Long Nineteenth Century: Sympathetic Partnerships and Artistic Creation (Cambridge University Press, 2022)

Suzanne Hobson, ‘The Ethics of Unbelief in Vernon Lee and William James’, in Unbelief in Interwar Literary Culture: Doubting Moderns (Oxford University Press, 2022)

Linda Hughes, ‘Queer Borders: Vernon Lee’s Haunted Expatriate Writings’, in Victorian Women Writers and the Other Germany: Cross-Cultural Freedoms and Female Opportunity (Cambridge University Press, 2022)

Kathryn Laing, ‘F. Mabel Robinson, Vernon Lee, and George Moore: The Aesthetics of Sympathy and Texts of Transition’, in Re-Reading the Age of Innovation (Routledge, 2022)

Kristin Mahoney, Queer Kinship After Wilde: Transnational Decadence and the Family (Cambridge University Press, 2022)

Fraser Riddell, Music and the Queer Body in English Literature at the ‘Fin de Siècle’ (Cambridge University Press, 2022)

Alison Stone, Women Philosophers in Nineteenth Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2023)

Journal Articles and Special Issues

‘Vernon Lee’, Volupté Interdisciplinary Journal of Decadence Studies, eds. Sally Blackburn-Daniels, Patricia Pulham, Jane Desmarais (Volume 15, Issue 2, Winter 2022) including:

  • Patricia Pulham and Sally Blackburn-Daniels, ‘Vernon Lee: Decadence, Morality, and Interart Aestheticism’
  • Fraser Riddell, ‘Musical under the touch of the Universe: Aesthetic Liberalism, Music, and Vernon Lee’s Essayistic Art of Resonance
  • Marco Canani, Vernon Lee’s The Ballet of the Nations: A Modern Morality, an Intermedial Mosaic
  • Sally Blackburn-Daniels, From Crystal Palace to the Grand Guignol: Vernon Lee and the First World War
  • Patricia Pulham, Orientalist Aestheticism: Vernon Lee, Carlo Gozzi, and the Venetian Fairy Comedy
  • Michael Craske, Lying Down or Standing Up for Music: Hearing and Listening in Vernon Lee’s Music and its Lovers
  • Meta Witte, Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady

Linda K. Hughes, ‘Vernon Lee: Slow Serialist and Journalist at the Fin de Siècle’, Victorian Literature and Culture (Volume 50, Issue 1, Spring 2022) 

Scholarly Publications

Vernon Lee, The Virgin of the Seven Daggers and Other Stories, ed. Aaron Worth (Oxford World’s Classics, 2022)

Works in Translation

Vernon Lee, Hjemsøgelser [Hauntings] translated Caroline Enghoff (Escho, 2023)

If we have missed your publication, apologies. Please do let us know about your work by getting in touch with Sally Blackburn-Daniels s.blackburn-daniels@tees.ac.uk. We’d be delighted to add your Lee related writing to our bibliography.

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The Future of Intelligence: a Multidisciplinary Vernon Lee Conference, 8-10 September 2023, Florence and Online

vernon lee, proteus, the future of intelligence, 1925. By Sally Blackburn-Daniels. Image generated by DALL-E at https://labs.openai.com/e/hzAzfzVRdJKb0bakABzbjQjG [accessed 5 January 2023]

Intelligence is especially preservative and sheltering. It is the natural purifier and tidier-up where Genius and Stupidity, disrupting and corrupting by turns, have played the deuce with our poor mortal heritage. And in the face of the millionfold sacrifices of self and others which Ideals and Heroisms have once again presented to our foolish admiration, I would go so far as to add that Intelligence is often more humane than Sentiment, and oftener still, more beneficent than what we call Virtue.

From the misapplications of our Science, the exaggerations and lunacies of our Genius, and the havoc wrought by our higher instincts, we therefore need to be saved, not by Reason which is always too long in getting under weigh, but by Intelligence, active, alacritous, and ubiquitous, afraid neither of being laughed at nor of laughing at others…Vernon Lee, PROTEUS; or, The Future of Intelligence (1925)

In her time, Vernon Lee’s (1856-1935) life across borders and her virtually unlimited thinking across disciplines, as well as her tackling fields traditionally reserved to men, were seen as ‘intellectual amateurishness’. But her multi-disciplinarity and her ability to cross boundaries, place her in our days as a modern thinker and a precursor.

Proteus – named after the mythical shapeshifter – is the title given to Lee’s boundary crossing essay which forms a part of the extensive To-Day and To-Morrow series (Kegan Paul, Trench and Trubner, 1923-1932). Lee’s volume appeared in 1925, the fourteenth in a staggering one-hundred and ten volume set. This expansive series included works from notable writers and thinkers of the time, including J. B. S. Haldane (DAEDALUS; or, Science and the Future), Bertrand Russell (ICARUS; or, The Future of Science), Dora Russell (HYPATIA; or, Women and Knowledge), Sylvia E. Pankhurst (DELPHOS; The Future of International Language), S. Radhakrishnan (KALKI; or, The Future of Civilization), and Vera Brittain (HALCYON; or, The Future of Monogamy). The first substantial study of the series, Max Saunders’ Imagined Futures; Writing, Science, and Modernity in the To-Day and To-Morrow Book Series, 1923-1932 clarifies that:

The rationale for the To-Day and To-Morrow series was to combine the popularization of expert knowledge for the general reader with predictions about the future… [the] aim for the series was to facilitate intelligent debate by producing a co-ordinated act of comprehensive futurology; a kind of Mass Speculation, or Mass Future Observation.Max Saunders, Imagined Futures; Writing, Science, and Modernity in the To-Day and To-Morrow Book Series, 1923-1932 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), p. 5.

Lee’s essay reiterated the predictions and hopes of earlier volumes (revaluation of sexual morality, ovarian transplants, ‘facilitations for changing one’s sex’, the modification of the family unit, the alteration of ‘tenure and conception of property’, the abolition of ‘indissoluable marriage’, inheritance, and the family unit) and speculates upon the facility that enables, and facilitates, these speculations:  intelligence. Lee’s Future Intelligence is capable of dealing with the ‘inconsiderable metamorphoses’ of reality and the world beyond the self because it is responsive, playful and engaged, whilst continuing to demonstrate empathy.

This conference aims to think about Lee’s life and works in ways that are responsive, playful, and multidisciplinary. Papers may demonstrate how Lee’s engagement within multiple disciplines resonated during the present moment and have the potential to shape future debates within a field or fields. We would particularly welcome discussions of:

  • Psychology, psychiatry, neurology, and mental health
  • Genetics, eugenics and evolutionary science
  • philosophy, ethics, and morality,
  • sociology and geography,
  • memory studies,
  • musicology and sound studies,
  • art and aesthetics,
  • dance, theatre, and performance,
  • environment and ecology,
  • race and colonialism,
  • sex and gender studies,
  • human and animal rights,
  • pacifism, anti-violence, anti-nationalism 
  • physics, chemistry, and hard science
  • development and education
  • Lee’s interdisciplinary networks
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Intelligence and empathy

We would also like to hear the ways in which Lee’s works predict tomorrow’s events and trends, and postulate or enable the development of healthy, sustainable futures. We also welcome submission of artworks, creative pieces, performances, and work in non-traditional formats.

The conference will be organised by Sally Blackburn-Daniels (Teesside University, UK), Shafquat Towheed (The Open University, UK), the Associazione Culturale Il Palmerino, and the International Vernon Lee Society.

Papers (20 minutes) will be accepted in the following languages: English, Italian, and French.

We would be delighted to discuss proposals or to answer any questions you may have.  Please submit abstracts (300 words) and short bio to the organising committee email thefutureofintelligence2023@gmail.com  by April 8, 2023.

Your selection by the scientific committee will be notified to you by May 1, 2023, as well as detailed information about registration.

We hope this conference will be the start of a series of initiatives that will conclude in 2025 with the celebration of the anniversary of the publication of Proteus.

The conference is in partnership or association with:

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

« … presents give me a very lively and special pleasure; have done so always ever since my days of Christmas-trees and birthday candles, leaving all through my life a particular permeating charm connected with certain dates and seasons, like the good, wonderful smell of old fir-needles slightly toasted, and of wax tapers recently extinguished, so that all very delightful places and moments are apt to affect me as a sort of gift-giving, what the Germans have a dear word for, beloved of children, Bescheerung. For if life, wisely lived, ought to be, as I firmly believe, nothing but a long act of courtship, then, surely, its exquisite things—summer nights with loose-hanging stars, pale sunny winter noons, first strolls through towered towns or upon herb-scented hills, the hearing again of music one has understood, not to speak of the gesture and voice of the people whom one holds dear—all these, and all other exquisite movements or exquisite items of life, should be felt with the added indescribable pleasure of being gifts. »

Vernon Lee, Hortus Vitae / Essays on the Gardening of Life

As a Christmas gift to you, and because this Season is a time for drawing a balance of past events as much as looking forward to the future despite the terrible, tragic state of the world, we are happy to offer you a list of some important events or publications, recent or scheduled for 2023 and 2024.

Il Palmerino Cultural Association, Florence

First of all, a word of apology for failing to forward to you the announcement of a fascinating performance staged at Villa Il Palmerino on 15th December 2022: La Voce del Male, by Luca Scarlini.

Luca Scarlini, writer, performer and lifestyle journalist, interpreted one of Vernon Lee’s most exciting stories: A Wicked Voice (la Voce Malefica) published in the collection, Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales in 1890, where Vernon Lee highlights the life of a singer opera of the 18th century, admirably intertwining between fiction and reality, the small world of singing and the golden age of the Prime Donne and the castrati. In the Italian translation by Attilio Brilli, Luca Scarlini narrates this world to us with musical reenactments of the last castrated singer of Rome, Alessandro Moreschi, and with his personal style as a brilliant performer”.

We also urge you to discover the superb new website of Il Palmerino Cultural Association at https://www.palmerino.org


In December also was published Michel PARENTY‘s book De la demeure inspirée au château d’esprit balnéaire, featuring an important chapter on “Pont-Feuillet, demeure inspirée”, about Violet Paget’s birthplace at Saint-Léonard.

The house was also home to the famed egyptologist Auguste Mariette. We are infinitely grateful to Michel Parenty for organising a guided tour of all the places connected to Vernon Lee’s birth during Prof. Marc ROLLAND’s Conference “Vernon Lee’s Fantastic Fiction” in Boulogne sur Mer last october.

The visit included a respectful visit of the cemetery of Saint-Léonard and the tombs of the Pagets’ hosts at the time, Major Bergonzi and his wife Mary-Anne Marshall, as well as the house itself where the current owners heartily welcomed the IVLS and their projects.

Last but not least, the IVLS was honoured by Mrs Loire, Mayor of Saint Léonard, at the City Hall, where the authentic birth certificate of Violet Paget was displayed for all those present. Again, we are most grateful to Michel Parenty for his important role in the local authorities’ agreement to make our projects happen.

Oxford World’s Classics

Aaron WORTH‘s edition of Vernon Lee’s fantastic Fiction as an Oxford World’s Classic is just out!

Ed. Aaron Worth

Projects for 2023 include (but are not limited to):

2023 Annual General Meeting of the IVLS: the IVLS will celebrate its 10th Anniversary in 2023. In partnership with the Associazione Culturale Il Palmerino, we are considering Florence as a venue for this important event in September or October, combined with an international multidisciplinary conference. Place and date are to be confirmed.

Projects for 2024 include (but are not limited to):

20-24 August 2024: ESSE conference, Lausanne: we call for a panel about “The Translations of Vernon Lee’s Texts in European Languages”

May peace, love and goodwill prevail, to make all this happen!

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“Every individual has a value”

“And have you ever reflected that

the restrictions placed upon nearly all

women’s lives

— restrictions upon their



nay, in many countries, even upon their

freely walking about in broad daylight

— are due mainly to the fact that a certain number of

male cads

are tolerated by society,

high and low?”

(Vernon Lee, Althea, 16-17)

Femmes, Vie, Liberté !

Soutien à toutes celles et ceux qui, en Iran, en Afghanistan, en Ukraine, et ailleurs dans le monde luttent contre la barbarie et l’obscurantisme et pour leur liberté, qui est notre liberté à toutes et à tous!

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“Newly graduated? Why you should be brave and attend an academic conference”

by Siobhan Smith

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the “Vernon Lee, Aesthetics and Empathy” conference at Churchill College, Cambridge. As a new graduate this was a daunting prospect, but I harbour lofty aspirations to continue onto PhD study and so decided to seize the opportunity. I didn’t regret it!

As it was an interdisciplinary conference, the discussions were incredibly varied and I found myself unexpectedly learning about serpentine curves, the effect of music on aesthetic experience and World War One propaganda. Not only did these insights broaden my wider knowledge, they also helped develop a more holistic and comprehensive appreciation of Vernon Lee. I was expecting to learn new things but some of the discoveries still took me by surprise. For instance, I didn’t know that Lee also wrote a book for children, The Prince of the Hundred Soups (1883), which I now plan to use to complement the module on Classic Children’s Literature that I am taking this trimester. 

Anna Shane and Jesse Prinz

I won’t lie, there were several moments in several papers when I was completely clueless, and I panicked. However, the feeling of imposter syndrome didn’t have the chance to linger for long because I quickly found myself caught up in the next conversation and was busy scribbling down ideas for my own research. Similarly, I was initially embarrassed in having to confess that; “No, I haven’t read that one” a lot but was relieved and reassured to hear the same reply to my questions about books that I’d read. It turns out that one of the joys of nineteenth-century literature is its abundance of obscure or lesser-known authors and texts.

Front (l) Eda Çaglar, (r) Scarlette-Electra LeBlanc, Second Row Thomas Petraschka & Simon Blackburn

I had expected to meet brilliantly impressive academics and was not disappointed – Professors from Cambridge and New York, and Assistant Professors from Venice and Germany were just the start. But I was also incredibly impressed by scholars currently outside of the academy. I had the privilege of meeting Eda Caglar who studied English Literature at Blacksea Technical University in Turkey. As part of the Erasmus student exchange programme, she spent the second year of her degree at the University of Chichester, where she was introduced to Lee. In June 2022, Eda produced the first ever Turkish translation of one of Lee’s stories – Amour Dure – and hopes to publish it along with more translations of her Haunting Collection. 

I also met Scarlette-Electra LeBlanc, who completed her English degree at Emmanuel College in Cambridge, her Master of Letters at St Andrews and is currently considering PhD options. Scarlette’s undergraduate dissertation looked at Changelings in Victorian Literature whilst her postgraduate dissertation focussed on Fallen Women and Motherhood. Scarlette and I immediately bonded over a shared interest in gothic literature and proceeded to discuss ideas, plans and book recommendations. Scarlette proved to be a font of knowledge and signposted me to the online seminar series ran by the Gothic Women Project. I felt a real sense of camaraderie in our discussions – if this was an insight into how female academics support and encourage each other then sign me up! The most unexpected person I met was Mary F. Burns, a historical fiction novelist from San Francisco. Mary was inspiring, not only because of her successful career, enthusiasm and warm affability, but also because of the impressive way in which she developed on Lee’s study of writing style and used punctuation to analyse the reader/writer relationship. In my follow up e-mail discussion with Mary, she talked about the “formidable walls of academia” which perfectly captured my own fears as a new graduate attempting to join the world of academia. Mary said:

“Although I have graduate degrees in literature and taught for a while, my main career has been in corporate communications. In the last two decades, I have pursued a long-held dream to write fiction, and now have nearly a dozen novels of historical and literary fiction published. But my university years, and memories of late-night conversations, always had me yearning to find that level of intellectual and collegial interaction that comes with having access to people who are passionate about reading, writing, talking and learning about themselves, ideas, and other people. So, armed with some knowledge of Vernon Lee (whom I made a major character in my novels), I ventured to breach the formidable walls of academia and come to the conference held in Cambridge—and I found there to be no walls or barriers to my entry at all, though I was only an “independent scholar” without credentials or affiliation! The people gathered at Churchill College were warm and welcoming, funny and kind, erudite and amazing in their reach and range of ideas and theories, their willingness to really listen and think about what everyone was saying, and their thoughtful support and encouragement to each other in trying out new ideas and directions. I found myself thinking, These are my people, at last!” 

Mary, Scarlette and Eda were an integral part of making my conference experience a positive one and so this is partly to thank them and partly to highlight that the real benefit of attending a conference is the incredible people that you will meet. I highly recommend any new graduate to ‘be brave’ and attend a conference, yes you will probably feel inspired and intimidated in equal measure, but when it’s finished the overriding feeling is one of being energised and you will be inspired to do more. 

Siobhan Smith has recently graduated from Teesside University with a First-Class Honours Degree in English Studies. She received the Professor Leni Oglesby Prize for Achievement and the Book Corner Prize for Best Performance. She has just started an MA in English Literature at Canterbury Christ Church University and is interested in cross-dressing within nineteenth-century literature, decadence and the New Woman.

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