No password is required to access the database and browse its contents. This is only the first step in the series of releases scheduled for 2021: we still have many documents and data in store for you! Best wishes for 2021,
Chers lecteurs, chères lectrices,
j’ai l’immense plaisir de vous annoncer l’ouverture de
“J’ai beaucoup pensé à vous l’horrible dimanche 15 [octobre], où j’ai trouvé dans la Nazione les nouvelles d’Allemagne.
Moi-même j’en ai été, le froid subit aidant, un peu malade, transie, incapable de lire ou de sortir, au coin du feu; puis une nuit de cauchemar lucide, que j’ai dû combler en lisant des drôleries de Sterne dans ˆTristram Shandyˆ. Dans cet état de cauchemar j’ai revécu beaucoup de 1914. Les citations de journaux parisiens semblaient menacer une croisade, un chaos. Les nouvelles d’aujourd’hui calmantes, un sursis.
J’ai beaucoup pensé à vous, chère Berthe, ce Dimanche là (je venais justement d’achever mes 77 ans !). Non pas à cause de peur de guerre qui aurait pu vous venir. Mais —cela vous semble peut-être fantastique—parce que je ressentais pour vous les souffrances causées par l’atmosphère moral [morale] autour de vous : l’horrible régime de haine, de peur, d’affolement ; pire encore peut-être la sensation de solitude…”
Lettre de Vernon Lee à Berthe Noufflard, 18 octobre 1933. Inédit. (Extrait)
Note: 14 octobre 1933 : L’Allemagne quitte la Société des Nations et se retire de la conférence de Genève sur le désarmement. Le discours de Hitler est publié dans la presse en France et en Italie le 15 octobre 1933.
“last night, like a lucid nightmare. . . . a crusade, chaos”
“I thought a lot about you on this horrible Sunday 15 [October], when I read the news from Germany in the Nazione.
With the sudden cold, it made me quite sick, chilled to the bone, unable to read or to go out, frozen by the fireside; then the night was a lucid nightmare I had to fill reading Laurence Sterne’s drolleries in Tristram Shandy. In this nightmarish state I lived again much of 1914. The extracts from parisian newspapers seemed to threaten a crusade, chaos. Today, soothing news; a respite.
I thought of you a lot, dear Berthe, that Sunday (I had just completed my 77 years!). Not because you might be scared of an impending war. But –this will perhaps seem fantastic to you– because I sympathised with the sufferings caused by the moral atmosphere around you: the horrible regime of hatred, fear, panic; worse even, perhaps: the sensation of loneliness…
Letter of Vernon Lee to Berthe Noufflard, October 18, 1933. Unpublished. (Extract)
Note: On October 14, 1933, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations and the World Disarmement Conference. Hitler’s speech was published on October 15, 1933 in French and Italian newspapers.
Nouvelle video! Sur les traces de l’esprit du lieu
On this St Genevieve’s Day, please enjoy our latest video, featuring Geneviève Noufflard, filmed some 8 years ago in Paris and at Fresnay-le-Long, and discover what we found there…
Aujourd’hui, Ste Geneviève, découvrez notre dernière production, avec Geneviève Noufflard filmée en 2013, et découvrez ce que nous avons trouvé entre Paris et Fresnay-le-Long.
Happy New Year to our readers! May 2021 be a peaceful, healthy source of inspiration for you all! Let us hope that we shall be able to meet in real life or, at least, in the cyberspace!
Bonne et heureuse nouvelle année à nos lecteurs! Que 2021 soit pour vous une source d’inspiration dans la paix et la santé! Et qu’elle nous permette de nous retrouver dans la vraie vie, ou, à défaut, dans ce monde virtuel!
Yours, sincereLEE, as ever
Amicales pensées leeiennes
P.S. Cette video est en français et en anglais. Retrouvez bientôt la version sous-titrée.
P.S. This video is in French and English. Subtitles will soon be added, for better and wider enjoyment.
We are delighted to announce that you can now view the recording of the IVLS 2020 lecture by Dustin Friedman “‘Sinister Exile’: Queer Myth and Aesthetic Teleology in Walter Pater and Vernon Lee.”
Many thanks to Dr Eleanor Hardy, Events and Communications Officer at The Institute of English Studies, to Dr Sally Blackburn-Daniels, our Communications Officer and to Pr. Shafquat Towheed (OU, HOBAR) for making this fascinating event happen.
Like every year, we shall celebrate Violet Paget’s birth-day on October 14, 2020. This year’s Vernon Lee event will be Dustin Friedman’s online lecture, and is entitled: “‘Sinister Exile’: Queer Myth and Aesthetic Teleology in Walter Pater and Vernon Lee.”
I am delighted to share with you the registration link to the IVLS Lecture, October 14, 2020 at 18.30 (UK time). Registration is free, and you do not need to be a member to register, so please share with anyone who may be interested.
Dustin Friedman is Assistant Professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, DC. His research and teaching focuses on Victorian literature and culture, with emphases on aestheticism and Decadence, as well as gender and sexuality studies. His book, Before Queer Theory: Victorian Aestheticism and the Self was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2019, and his writings have appeared in the Journal of Modern Literature, ELH, Studies in Romanticism, Literature Compass, and Studies in Walter Pater and Aestheticism.
All my best wishes – and hope to (virtually) see you on the 14th!
On September 24 2020, H&M Studio will launch their A/W Collection which takes its inspiration from Vernon Lee and David Bowie. The collection blends ‘old world elegance’ with ‘70’s disco’ stylings and includes garments that combine ultra-masculine and hyper-feminine tailoring. … Continue reading →
we are glad to announce the publication, today, of Volume II of the Selected Letters of Vernon Lee 1856-1935, by Sophie Geoffroy (ed.) and Amanda Gagel (assoc. ed.). 762 p. Translation from the French: Sophie Geoffroy; translation from the Italian: Crystal Hall.
Table of Contents
Vernon Lee’s life and letters : 1885-1889
Editorial policy : textual and technical considerations
Table of Illustrations
Table of the letters in this volume
Vernon Lee’s Correspondents in this Volume
The Letters : 1885-1889
– Introductory Note: 1885-1886
– Introductory Note: 1887–1889
Bibliography (Works cited)
Resources and Archives consulted
Vernon Lee’s correspondents include her parents Matilda Paget (née Adams)and Henry Ferguson Paget and her step-brother, poet Eugene Lee-Hamilton, but also English poetess Mary Robinson (later Darmesteter; later Duclaux) ; English poet Robert Browning; British novelist and journalist Ellen Mary Abdy-Williams; British social reform activist and editor Percy William Bunting; Irish journalist and activist Frances Power Cobbe; Irish scholar and novelist Arabella (Bella) Duffy; British eugenicist Karl Pearson; British publisher William Blackwood; Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson; American novelist Henry James; American connoisseur and arts patron Isabella Stuart Gardner; French translator and critic Marie-Thérèse Blanc (“Th. Bentzon”); Lady Louisa Wolseley; Field Marshal Garnet Joseph Wolseley; Irish historian and activist Alice Stopford-Green; Italian Countess Angelica (Pasolini) Rasponi; Italian poet, writer and critic Enrico Nencioni; Italian novelist, essayist and critic Mario Pratesi; Italian editor and man of letters Francesco Protonotari; Italian painter Telemaco Signorini.
In this second volume, covering the years 1885–1889, the 421 letters allow us to follow Violet Paget-Vernon Lee in her early thirties. Recovering from the stinging reception of her first novel and from Mrs Annie Meyer’s death, Lee turns to essay writing on aesthetics and ethics and ghost stories.
After her bosom friend and colleague Mary Robinson’s engagement to marry a renowned French orientalist, Prof. James Darmesteter, Vernon Lee travels, with Evelyn Wimbush, to Spain, Gibraltar and Tangiers and briefly falls under the spell of the Orient.
She also takes a liking to Scotland, and many of her close friends are Scottish –Alice Callander, Lady “Archie” (Janey Sevilla Archibald Campbell)—and so is her future partner Clementina Anstruther-Thomson.
Her letters at that time reflect the expansion of her subject matter from cultural studies, art history and aesthetic philosophy. Her charity work in hospitals in Florence and her readings in Political Economy lead her thinking towards social reform and political issues.
Her brother’s mental illness and her own breakdown bring about an awareness of the importance of body and mind balance and a taste for outdoor pursuits (mountaineering; bicycling; horse riding; swimming). In Eugene’s interest and for her own sake, she becomes interested in experimental psychology (rotating mirrors; hypnosis) and engages in alternative medicine (hydrotherapy).
A major turn occurs when the Pagets move away from the city center of Florence into the Villa Il Palmerino, then in the countryside, where both Eugene and Vernon recover. At the close of the year 1889, Vernon Lee, now thirty-three years old, has found a place where she can settle down for good. She literally cultivates her garden, and turns Villa Il Palmerino, purchased in 1906, into “the true mirror of her mutifaceted mind” (Maria Waser).
We are particularly grateful to
the Vernon Lee Archive in the Miller Library at Colby College, Waterville, Maine. Special thanks are due to Patricia Burdick, Maggie Libby and Erin Rhodes.
the Associazione Culturale Palmerino at the Villa Il Palmerino, Federica Parretti and Stefano Vincieri
Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, Manuscrits (Guillaume Fau)
the British Institute in Florence, Italy (Dr Alyson Price)
Somerville College, Oxford (Dr Anne Manuel)
the British Library, London
the Bodleian Library, Oxford
the Swiss Literary Archive, Bern, Switzerland (Dr. Corinna Jäger-Trees)
the Berenson Library, Villa I Tatti, Florence (Dr. Fiorella Gioffredi-Superbi)
the Gabinetto Vieusseux, Florence
the National Library of Ireland
the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Library
the Marucelliana Library, Florence
the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence
the Leon Edel Archive, McGill U., Montreal, Quebec
the Hove Central Library
the Bibliothèque de l’Institut Universitaire de France, Paris
the Armstrong Browning Library of Baylor University
Some European influences on the anti-war writings of Vernon Lee: E.D. Morel, Francis Delaisi and Marcel Sembat
Angus Mitchell & Caoilfhionn Ní Bheacháin
The later political writings of Vernon Lee have been unfairly neglected in many studies of the First World War. She received a short but memorable mention in Helena Swanwick’s memoir I have been young, where she is described as “the caustic, the fastidious, the learned, the well-loved, and the very ‘difficult’…” (Swanwick 1935: 257). Despite this striking portrayal, Lee is surprisingly absent from Swanwick’s account of the Union of Democratic Control (U.D.C.), that organisation that opposed conscription, wartime censorship and military influences on government policy (Swanwick 1924). Other volumes dedicated to the history of the U.D.C. also manage to occlude the contribution of Lee in terms of her activism, her membership of the General Council, and her writings for the organisation’s paper. Yet Lee’s interventions at this time are numerous and significant. In addition to the anti-war play The Ballet of the Nations, she published political articles in journals such as The Nation, New Statesman, Labour Leader, The U.D.C. and Atlantic Monthly. This vocal pacifism is not incongruous: as argued by Sally Blackburn-Daniels, Lee’s Victorian cosmopolitanism fluidly evolved into a committed anti-war stance (Blackburn-Daniels 2018). It is because of this political stance that she “earned a vital place within Britain’s distinguished radical tradition during World War I” (Mannocchi, n.d.).
In January 1925 Vernon Lee penned a brief obituary recollecting some of her encounters with the activist and politician, E.D. Morel: he was the most energetic figure involved in the U.D.C. (Lee, Unity, 12 January 1925). Her comments are warm and empathetic. In her tribute, she celebrates Morel as an independent intellectual outsider, one who had also fought against the suffering and cruelty of war. Lee had collaborated closely with Morel during the First World War when they both served on the general committee of the U.D.C. She described him as a man with the countenance of a poet:
“with his curious mixture of very British with very French, Morel was not unlike Romain Rolland’s war-hero Clerambault, the sort of man who, on the Continent, would have been assassinated like Jaurès, Rathenau, and Matteotti. In our law-stickling England of the war years, he was merely put in a convict’s jacket for infringing unwittingly a regulation against sending pamphlets to neutral countries.” (Lee 1925)
Lee later dedicated The Ballet of the Nations to Romain Rolland, and her allusion to him in Morel’s obituary highlighted her regard for the latter. Rolland, a French internationalist and pacifist, was the first Professor of Music History at the Sorbonne. A dramatist, essayist, novelist, mystic and biographer, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915 for his anti-war collection Au-dessus de la mêlée or Above the Battle. Rolland moved to Switzerland, condemning the war and arguing for the commonality of European culture. It was to his address in Switzerland that Morel had despatched, through a mutual friend, copies of his pamphlet Tsardom’s Part in the War.
Figure 1: E.D. Morel (1873-1924) Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C., USA; “No known restrictions on publication.”
Imprisoned for six months in 1917 for his breach of the Defence of the Realm Act by distributing anti-war pamphlets to a neutral country, Morel’s health was permanently compromised because of his incarceration. Following his release from prison in January 1918, he spent some days with Lee and the Ford family, their Quaker friends, at their home near Leeds: “We thought him enormously aged and broken,” Lee wrote (1925). Six years later, in his mid-fifties, Morel died from physical and mental exhaustion. Lee’s short obituary ended with this reflection:
“what Morel was martyred for, in body and mind, during the war years, were the opinions which French Socialists like Sembat and Delaisi had been publishing before the war came and verified their prophecies.” (Lee 1925)
As in this piece, throughout her anti-war writings, Lee critically deploys an international frame of reference. In this tribute to Morel, she highlights his transformative shift from colonial reformer to anti-war protester. Only a few years previously, he had been feted for his activist work in the colonial sphere and his decade-long campaign exposing the atrocities committed against the people of central Africa. However, his repositioning as a pacifist organiser resulted in Morel’s marginalisation within the British political establishment.
In May 1911, Morel had been honoured with a testimonial luncheon in London where he was roundly congratulated for his enormous vitality running the Congo Reform Association. Through this association, activists exposed and contested the outrages of King Leopold II’s rule in the Congo. However, the crisis in international relations prompted Morel to re-orientate his efforts towards averting the impending war. For some years, Morel had been collaborating closely with a group of European intellectuals in order to try and extend his Congo reform campaign into the rest of Europe. In 1908 and with the help of the historian and activist Alice Stopford Green, he helped to establish the Ligue Internationale pour la défense des Indigènes dans le Bassin Conventionel du Congo. Forty or so European intellectuals lent their names to this cause. Many of them openly identified as socialists, pacifists and anti-imperialists while several were members of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, founded in 1898 to defend the innocence of Captain Dreyfus. Their professional backgrounds were varied: literary luminaries, academics, politicians, explorers and scientists, most of them sympathetic with progressive socialist reforms.
Prominent among the group was Marcel Sembat (Fig. 2) who had a reputation as an inspired and outspoken voice. Sembat was a close collaborator with the socialist leader Jean Jaurès (also mentioned by Lee in Morel’s obituary) and part of a radical socialist phalanx in the French Chambre des Députés. Sembat was one of a group of politicians and public intellectuals who questioned the secret diplomacy and propaganda of pre-war Europe. He feared the peoples of the major European powers were being driven blindly towards Armageddon. He published his views in Faites un Roi, Sinon Faites la Paix (translated by Lee as “Make up your mind between Despotism and Peace”),predicting war from several years out and making a fervent appeal for peace and a rapprochement between France and Germany. The work was rapidly reprinted. He condemned war as a betrayal of the fundamental principles of the French republic and depicted militarism as inimical to humanity. He was not alone in this view; in 1911 the economist and socialist-pacifist Francis Delaisi (1873-1947) published La Guerre qui Vient (1911), later translated and published in the US as The Inevitable War (1915). Delaisi advocated for a united anti-war response from the working classes. Lee read both Sembat and Delaisi, and she reflected upon their premises and arguments.
Morel’s close co-operation with European intellectuals over Congo reform had also brought him into contact with the work of both Sembat and Delaisi. The following year and having watched the Agadir Crisis bring the world to the brink of war, Morel published Morocco in Diplomacy (1912), which mapped the years of diplomatic entanglement leading up to the Agadir crisis. In 1913, Morel and his fellow organisers began to wind up the Congo Reform Association and, from that point, he channelled instead his energies into trying to prevent war. By this point, Lee was highlighting the dangerous crossroads that faced the European nation states.
Informed by her own contact with the European intellectual Left, Lee had been writing against war since 1910. Initially, her articles were published in the Liberal press, but her views gradually became unpalatable to those looking to defend the decision to go to war. After the outbreak of war, her name appeared with increasing regularity in the Labour Leader. On 15 October 1914, an entire front-page article signed “V.L.” appeared under the headline: “Germany’s Fear of Russia: French Socialist Minister’s Explanation. A Notable Quotation from Marcel Sembat“. Here Lee gave an overview of Sembat’s argument that the diplomacy among European nations before the war was propelling it towards a violent confrontation and not towards peace. The future stability of Europe depended upon Germany defending its eastern borders from the threat of Russia; therefore, other European powers, including Britain, should support Germany. For the Germans, it was the Franco-Russian alliance of 1891-94 and the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 that seemed like a betrayal of civilized countries in support of barbarism. From this perspective, Tsarist Russia, not Germany, was the long-term threat to Europe.
Two years later, Lee published a two-part study entitled “Two French ‘Unheeded Warnings'”: the first piece focussed on Sembat’s “Faites un Roi, Sinon Faites La Paix”, while the second discussed Delaisi’s “La Guerre Qui Vient”. The first article was published in the September 1916 issue of The U.D.C. (the monthly journal edited by Morel); in it, Lee argued that peace was an active choice rather than an arrangement between nations that could be taken for granted (Fig. 3).
Lee noted how Sembat’s views had been moderated since he had joined the French cabinet; nevertheless, his arguments made before the war still applied. She once more appealed to the folly of French patriotism that sought revenge for defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and home rule for Alsace Lorraine. Two years into the war with unquantifiable suffering to France, Lee wondered:
“Was M. Sembat correct in his diagnosis and justified in his advice? None of us, and perhaps M. Sembat better than any other will be able to answer until this reeling and bloodshot present shall have been succeeded by a dispassionate future. We cannot judge these matters yet, but only, at best suspend our judgment and cultivate our powers of doubting; for we are all, whether burning for war or yearning for peace groping among deliberate lies, wilful mistakes, and worse still, among the dishonesty born of our anger, our hope, or our regret.” (Lee, September 1916, p. 128) What is evident from these interventions is that Lee’s thinking was influenced by French intellectuals like Sembat, Delaisi and Rolland. In her second piece for The U.D.C. in December 1916, Lee quotes extensively from Delaisi’s argument. Francis Delaisi (Fig. 4) was a complex and controversial figure, and what is interesting is how Vernon Lee is discussing the ideas and publications of these continental intellectuals who both engaged with and criticised each other in their analysis of the impending crisis. She presented these perspectives to the readership of platforms like that of The U.D.C., highlighting the diversity and complexity of opinion that existed abroad.
In her writings and her friendship with Morel, Lee was concerned with challenging official nationalist positions about the war. Although her pacifism is generally assessed in terms of The Ballet of the Nations, Lee’s other anti-war writings reveal that her cosmopolitanism was informed by a deep love of Europe and by a sustained engagement with European intellectuals. In his cultural history of the Iron Curtain, Patrick Wright highlights this striking sentiment in his discussion of Lee’s piece on “Bach’s Christmas Music in England and in Germany” (Wright 389-90). In her paean to the power of music to heal, Lee concludes that the message of Bach’s composition is that “Enmity dies and is forgotten, being accidental, changeable, sterile, and against the grain of life. But peace and goodwill on earth is born for ever anew because it is born of the undying needs of our common humanity”. She reflects on the power of music to remind divided European peoples of their common bonds and to jolt them into recognising the artificial hatreds created by war:
“Never have we and they been closer together, more alike and akin than at this moment when War’s monstrous iron curtain, cut us off so utterly from one another.”
In her representation of national peoples united in suffering and in a common humanity, Lee hopes for reconciliation and peace. The recent publication of the correspondence between Irene Forbes-Mosse and Lee reveals the latter’s emotional suffering during this period. Lee’s pacifist politics were grounded in her personal sense of horror and loss as the cosmopolitanism of her childhood world was fractured and upended. As is evident from her political writings and from her involvement in the U.D.C., Lee’s wartime thinking reveals diverse European influences and a deep emotional response to the traumatic consequences of international conflict and division.
 Swartz, The Union of Democratic Control, marginalizes Lee within his narrative and fails to reference her pamphlet Peace with Honour in his list of U.D.C. pamphlets. However, he does name her as a member of the organisation’s first General Council in 1914 (47) and she is still included as serving on the UDCGC in the 1917 list (224); also see Harris, Out of Control.
 Our thanks to Patricia Burdick at Colby College who most generously supplied copies of several of the Lee articles referenced in this article.
 For details on the arrest and conviction of Morel see Donald Mitchell, The politics of dissent: A biography of E.D. Morel (Bristol, 2014), pp. 132-144. Lee published an article in the U.D.C., 2:12, Oct. 1917 titled ‘Shall Prussia Restore the Tsar?’ – a reflection on the future risks for revolutionary Russia.
 In a letter (18 September 1914) to Irene Forbes Mosse, Lee references Sembat’s book with the following comment: ‘The German position is rendered in a splendid, ingenious, generous manner.’ See (Sieberg and Zorn, 2014, 72).
Bibliography / Works Cited:
Blackburn-Daniels, Sally. “Separate in Interest, Unequal in Power: Cosmopolitanism and Pacifism in the Works of Vernon Lee.” Artisans de la paix et passeurs: Peacemakers and Bridgebuilders, edited by Sophie Geoffroy (Paris: Michel Houdiard Éditeur, 2018), pp. 215-227.
Delaisi, Francis. La Guerre qui Vient. Edition de la “Guerre Sociale”, 1911. Translated and published in the US as The Inevitable War. Small, Maynard & Co, 1915.
Harris, Sally. Out of Control: British Foreign Policy and the Union of Democratic Control, 1914-1918. The University of Hull Press, 1996.
Lee, Vernon. “Germany’s Fear of Russia: French Socialist Minister’s Explanation. A Notable Quotation from Marcel Sembat.” Labour Leader, 15 October 1914: 1-2.
Lee, Vernon. Peace with Honour (U.D.C. pamphlets).
Lee, Vernon. The Ballet of the Nations: A Present-Day Morality. Chatto and Windus, 1915.
Lee, Vernon. “Two French ‘Unheeded Warnings’: I – M. Sembat’s “Faites un Roi, Sinon Faites la Paix”’, The U.D.C. 1:11, September 1916: 126-128.
Lee, Vernon. “Two French ‘Unheeded Warnings’: II – M. Delaisi’s ‘La Guerre Qui Vient‘”, The U.D.C. 2:2, December 1916: 17-18.
Lee, Vernon. “Shall Prussia Restore the Tsar?” The U.D.C., 2:12, Oct. 1917.
Lee, Vernon. “From Vernon Lee.” Unity, 12 January 1925.
Mitchell, Donald. The politics of dissent: A biography of E.D. Morel (Bristol, 2014).
Morel, E.D. Morocco in Diplomacy (1912).
Morel, E.D. Tsardom’s Part in the War ( ).
Ní Bheacháin, Caoilfhionn & Angus Mitchell, “Alice Stopford Green and Vernon Lee: Salon Culture and Intellectual Exchange”, Journal of Victorian Culture, 2020, Vol. 25, No. 1: 77-94.
Rolland, Romain. Au-dessus de la mêlée or Above the Battle.
Sieberg, Howard and Christa Zorn (eds.). The Anglo-German Correspondence of Vernon Lee and Irene Forbes-Mosse During World War I: Women Writers’ Friendship Transcending Enemy Lines, ed. Howard Sieberg and (Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2014).
Sembat. Faites un Roi, Sinon Faites la Paix ( ).
Stopford Green, Alice. The Public Presentation to Mr E.D. Morel ( ).
Swanwick, Helena. Builders of Peace, being ten years’ history of the Union of Democratic Control. (London: The Swarthmore Press, 1924).
Swanwick, Helena. I have been young. (London, 1935).
Swartz, Marvin. The Union of Democratic Control in British Politics during the First World War (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).
For details on the arrest and conviction of Morel see Donald Mitchell, The politics of dissent: A biography of E.D. Morel (Bristol, 2014), pp. 132-144.
Wright, Patrick. Iron Curtain: from Stage to Cold War (Oxford, 2007).
Petit bout de femme intrépide et pleine d’énergie jusqu’à un âge très avancé, elle était la vieille dame la plus intimidante que j’aie jamais connue.
Franche et directe, en elle s’alliaient la rigueur scientifique de la collaboratrice du futur prix Nobel de médecine Jacques Monod, le courage de la Résistante aux côtés de son mentor et d’Albert Camus, la conscience aiguë de son devoir de mémoire envers ses parents –les peintres André et Berthe Noufflard–, ainsi qu’une vive intelligence et une culture hors du commun, et une dignité sourcilleuse particulièrement exigeante envers ses proches autant qu’envers elle-même, que tempérait un humour parfois redoutable qui masquait à grand peine le besoin de réconfort d’une grande dame solitaire révoltée par les infirmités de l’âge.
Mais la petite fille pétillait toujours dans son regard bleu de glace, cette petite fille que j’avais découverte dans les films de famille tournés par son père, André Noufflard, à partir de 1925. Très vite, le projet m’a été confié de réaliser un documentaire à partir de ces films.
C’est grâce à ces films, découverts au Pôle Image de Haute-Normandie (Rouen) par Stefano Vincieri et Federica Parretti, que j’avais appris à connaître celle qui signait alors ses lettres “Genouf” et exécutait révérences et cabrioles devant la caméra paternelle et l’invitée de marque, l’amie de la famille: Miss Paget.
Témoin exceptionnel, Geneviève Noufflard, qui avait connu et fréquenté Vernon Lee entre 1925 et 1935, dont la mémoire était infaillible et qui était animée par le désir plein de nostalgie de mieux connaître les personnes qui avaient peuplé sa jeunesse et aimé ses parents, devint une collaboratrice de recherche précieuse.
Très méthodique et ayant déjà effectué avec sa soeur Henriette Noufflard-Guy-Loë un remarquable travail pour l’ouvrage André Noufflard, Berthe Noufflard, leur vie, leur peinture (prix de l’Académie Charles Blanc en 1983), Geneviève Noufflard était soucieuse de compléter et de mettre à jour les fiches cartonnées et les carnets où elle consignait les données relatives aux oeuvres picturales de ses parents et aux films de son père.
Nous nous sommes rapprochées, grâce à Miss Paget et peut-être à la musique.
Grâce, à n’en pas douter, au dévouement du Dr Gilles Pasquet, dont la présence solide et attentionnée la rassurait, et qui partageait avec elle le goût de l’aventure. Il rendit possible l’escapade à Fresnay-le-Long où ensemble nous découvrîmes le corpus des lettres échangées entre Berthe Noufflard et Miss Paget (Vernon Lee) aujourd’hui en cours d’inventaire, qu’elle vint présenter avec nous quelques mois plus tard à l’Institut Français de Florence.
Complice d’aventure, collaboratrice de recherche et amie, Geneviève Noufflard participa aussi à la création de l’International Vernon Lee Society, dont elle fut membre d’honneur.
Sa mémoire et les documents auxquels Geneviève Noufflard nous a donné accès nous accompagnent et nous inspirent chaque jour. Nous sommes heureux et fiers d’avoir eu le privilège de la connaître et de la faire connaître, notamment par le webdocumentaire auquel elle a activement participé. Ces images sont librement accessibles sur Vimeo, sur notre chaîne Vernon Lee Online https://vimeo.com/channels/1269849
“Literature is the universal confidant, the spiritual director of mankind" Vernon Lee
Portrait de Miss Paget par Berthe Noufflard, 1932
"L’avantage d’être écrivain, même sans lecteurs, c’est de pouvoir éviter tout malentendu et toute déloyauté en mettant sous les yeux des autres ce qu’on pense sous forme de livre." VL, Lettre à Berthe Noufflard 26 juillet 1925
Miss Paget, portrait photographique par André Noufflard
« Mais si seulement les gens voulaient reconnaître dans leurs semblables : des semblables, l’autre soi-même du Bouddhisme ou du moins une pauvre bête aussi capable de souffrance et d’erreur que soi-même ! » (Vernon Lee, Lettre à Mathilde Hecht, 30 décembre 1921)