Palms and Roses

Rejuvenated by my recent visit to a thriving Villa Il Palmerino, here we are, back on board, with a new, sizeable issue of The Sibyl. Composed and written in Reunion Island, my « palm island », it is reminiscent of the friendly reunion of Lee enthusiasts at Vernon Lee’s Villa, Il Palmerino – somehow, the Villa of the Palm-Bearers.

Il Palmerino is magnificently preserved and active thanks to Federica Parretti and Stefano Vincieri, to the Associazione Culturale Il Palmerino, whose dedication to the memory of Vernon Lee and her circle, and whose passion for art and artists have turned this magic place into an ideal centre for « passionate pilgrims » to meet.

Indeed, so powerful is the spirit of this place, its genius loci, that visitors –pilgrims looking for traces of their forefathers or scholars– flock to Il Palmerino.

An international community is thus being born, drawn to the « network of sympathies » that bound their ancestors a century ago. As if an impalpable, invisible chain were weaving together scholars and descendants around the world, a chain made of the echoes of half forgotten melodies and the fragrance of the white roses of Il Palmerino–known as « Vernon’s roses » there, but called « Kit’s roses » by Clementina Anstruther-Thomson’s family in Scotland. Their intoxicating perfume –pepper, lemon and tea—is still wafted from Tuscany to my tropical climes and I wish our pictures could convey these uncanny sensations to our readers.

May our circle enlarge and expand across the oceans and across the borders ! May the incense of beauty, art and friendship uplift our hearts and souls.

 Now, please take a stroll in these beautiful gardens, Vernon Lee’s home from 1889 to 1935 –46 years !–, and visit our new section : a Gallery of pictures and portraits.

 Vernon Lee studies have made huge progress. Almost all of Vernon Lee’s texts have now become available, either in print or on the internet. Easier access to Lee’s primary material has made it possible for more scholars to work on Lee, as the growing number of critical studies shows. Mandy Gagel’s Doctoral Thesis about Vernon Lee’s Letters (Boston, 2008) features prominently, as an essential ground-breaking archival exploration of Lee’s thought and personal life. Moreover, the developement of gender studies and studies dedicated to aestheticism have also contributed to making Lee’s readers more numerous and enthusiastic than ever. Hence, our updated, compiled bibliography.

Major landmarks in fields related to Lee are noted in the « Announcements » section. Here are listed past events and forthcoming events. This section is yours : please, send us the announcements you wish to advertise through The Sibyl. We need your information and feedback truly to reflect the importance and the variety of our readers’ involvement in this field.

 The present issue is dedicated to Vernon Lee and the “Woman question”. Vernon Lee was acutely aware of the limitations imposed on the “weaker sex” by Victorian mores and morals. Just like her cousin, Alice Abadam, She sided with the suffragettes, and is quite well-known for her vindication of women’s rights as well as for her unconventional life style.

Feeling “sure that no one reads a woman’s writing on art, history or aesthetics with anything but unmitigated contempt”, [1] she took her masculine nom de plume at the age of nineteen. In a letter to Madame (Linda) Villari, dated Casa Bertagna, Bagni di Lucca. June 26. ’79, Lee still complained :

no creature will give a woman credit for serious (except scientific) writing ; (…) everything like historical or critical work is sure to be set down as trash if from a female pen (for pens have a sex in this world). […] Will you now admit that I am right in stating that no one, not even you, will believe in anything except a woman novelist ? [2]

 In « The Economic Parasitism of Women » (Gospels of Anarchy), Vernon Lee argued that « women were over-sexed », which precluded any possibility of their being considered as men’s equals. [3] At a time notorious for its segregation of men and women into « separate spheres », she wished for a sex-blind society, in which the achievements of individual artists could be assessed regardless of their gender.

Women’s quest for identity and struggle for freedom, love and social recognition are recurrent themes in her texts, where women feature prominently, either as characters, narrators, artists, muses, models, sources of inspiration or as creators in their own right.

We therefore invited contributors to focus on the question of gender in Vernon Lee’s life, theoretical works, fiction, or correspondence.

The primary material and the articles published here were chosen accordingly, depending on their relevance to the chosen topic.

    « Capo Serpente », which may have been the stump of « Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady » is fraught with fantasies of masculinity, quite the reverse of the other text, a nativity: « La Nativité, tableau de Fra Filippo Lippi, expliqué par un pieux compère florentin de son temps ». The translation of this text into French by an unknown translator being slightly different from the original text, we shall soon provide here the unpublished manuscript by Vernon Lee.

Our readers will then find three academic articles. In the first one, Jill Davies unveils the character of Violet Paget’s cousin : Alice Abadam, an active suffragist. « Violet Paget’s cousin, Alice Abadam, was an extremely active worker in the suffragist movement in Britain. The two women were exact contemporaries, both born in 1856. Alice’s father was Edward Abadam, of Middleton Hall, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire. Violet’s mother was Edward’s sister, Matilda. » This remarkable paper unveils both Violet Paget’s relationship with her mother’s family and her cousin’s religious, political and social involvement. It is complete with a host of unpublished watercolours by Alice Abadam, describing with an acute sense of humour the cycle tour of her fellow suffragists through the North.

In his paper entitled “La Voix d’esprit: music, jouissance; Vernon Lee, Willa Cather”, Raymond Garcia III focuses on a comparative study of Vernon Lee and Willa Cather’s musical fiction, focussing on the question of feminine jouissance.

In his ground breaking article, « Color and Copper : Mary Cassat and Vernon Lee, 1895 », Peter Way uncovers unknown aspects of the relationship between Mary Cassatt and Vernon Lee.

 My paper, « Vernon Lee et la Beauté: pour une esthétique féministe et humaniste engagée » focuses on Vernon Lee’s humanist and feminist approach to Beauty ; my approach is akin to Patricia Pulham’s, who, in 2003 documented the relationship between Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Vernon Lee, [4] and to Christa Zorn’s, who observes that Lee “reclaims from aestheticism its value as a socially and politically responsible discourse.”

Issue 6 will be devoted to the proceedings of the Florence seminar, Violet del Palmerino.

In the issue 7 of The Sibyl, Vernon Lee’s humanist stance, philanthropic activism and cosmopolitan pacifism before, during and after World War I will be dealt with.

We invite contributions about Vernon Lee’s life, theoretical works, fiction, drama, or correspondence through that painful trial. Of particular interest: her relationship and correspondence with contemporary writers, artists, philosophers about the war (e.g. Romain Rolland, G. B. Shaw, H. G. Wells, Mary Robinson (Mme Duclaux), Maurice Baring, Ethel Smyth, Augustine Bulteau, Irene Forbes-Mosse, to name but a few). Please have a look at the complete call for papers for more details and for a suggested bibliography.

    * 1. Quoted in Gunn, 66.

    * 2. From Oxford U., Bodleian Library, in Mandy Gagel, p. 198 du pdf, p. 189 of dissertation.

    * 3. Lee’s review originally bore the title “The Economic Dependence of Women,” and was subsequently published in the North American Review (April, 1901). It was republished in her Gospels of Anarchy as “The Economic Parasitism of Women,” and reprinted in Critical Essays on Charlotte Perkins Gilman, ed. Joanne B. Karpinski. New York: G. K. Hall. 1992.

    * 4. Christa Zorn. 2003. Vernon Lee. Aesthetics, History, and the Victorian Female Intellectual. Athens: Ohio University Press. 79. The complications with Lee’s “moral” interpretation are well presented and contextualized in Zorn’s study of Lee’s response to aestheticism.

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