Вільні Спірти розуміють один одного, об’єднуються через кордони / Free spirits understand each other, unite across borders (Vernon Lee July 18, 1934)

Dear readers, Шановні читачі,

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine left me literally speechless these days. History tests our humanist, pacifist, idealistic convictions by placing us in a situation analogous to that of our parents or grandparents who, in their lifetime, experienced the war, either fighting on the battlefield or witnessing events. How can one stand by and watch such a ruthless attack on peace, Putin’s war of occupation? What can we say or do to help our Ukrainian brothers and sisters under siege?

Like Vernon Lee perceptively wrote to her friend  Mathilde Hecht : “Our statesmen, in their vindictive panic, are preparing for the future wars … of revenge that will surpass all that we have seen! Never, under the pretext of punishing bad faith and inhumanity, have people been treated (…) with such bad faith and inhumanity; never has militarism and all that goes with it has never triumphed to this point.” (Vernon Lee, letter to Mathilde Hecht, February 8, 1921)

First, posting here a simple flag, without comment, 2 days ago, was a first testimony of our solidarity with the Ukrainian people who are valiantly resisting the oppressor and fighting to enforce their rights, and our rights too: the right of all peoples to self-determination. Then, I looked for a message to convey : The Sibyl must carry light in these dark times. Could Vernon Lee be a source of inspiration, a source of hope?

She too lived under the bombs, in a furnished apartment in London, during the First World War, and the terrible situation of the Ukrainian people under the bombs makes her testimony more actual than ever:

“I live with a «respirator» against chlorine bombs in my drawer and a bucket of sand in my fireplace! That’s where we are now! Notice that in the event that such a bomb shortens my days, my executor happens to be Mrs Forbes-Mosse with whom I am quarrelling just like with my local chauvinists here and who, I think, will not want to set foot in Italy ever again. Oh hatred, dear Mathilde, the stupid, stupid hatred!” (letter to Mathilde Hecht, June 16, 1915)

The letters exhanged between Vernon Lee and her close friend, Irene Forbes-Mosse, in the remarkable edition of Christa Zorn and Herward Sieberg, The Anglo-German Correspondence of Vernon Lee and Irene Forbes-Mosse during World War I ; Women Writers’ Friendship Transcending Enemy Lines, show not only the immediate disasters of a European war, but also the long lasting consequences of propaganda and of censorship. Let us pray for Free spirits to remain united across borders!

Let’s remember that Vernon Lee (Violet Paget) was marked by a cosmopolitan and nomadic childhood due to political upheavals in Europe from the French Revolution to the Franco-Prussian war and perhaps a certain transgenerational experience of exile. She confides in her French friend the painter Berthe Noufflard, who quotes her in her Journal:

« My grandfather had been a professor in Poland — my father had been raised there — and then worked there as an engineer — he had been involved in the construction of the Warsaw-Moscow railway. He never forgot the horror of the Russian and Prussian persecutions. He emigrated to France with Poles in 1849. –he was even part of the National Guard in Paris” (Miss Paget, Journal de Berthe Noufflard, 28 July 1934)

Her sensitivity to the cause of Poland and Finland resonates today in particular: “In London, during the war, I was approached, invited by young Polish patriots – Very charming — <forming a club>– kind to the highest degree — who asked me if the English radicals could not take an interest in the cause of Poland. … Finns too — an art critic I saw a lot then — There was nothing to be done. … And the Polish cause, the Finnish cause, were stories which our allies wouldn’t hear of.” (Miss Paget, Journal de Berthe Noufflard, 28/07/1934)

Let us not forget her friendship for the poet and diplomat Peter (“Peter”) Boutourline (Petr Dmitrievich Buturlin; 1859–1895), born in Florence, who left for Kiev, Tagantcha, in January 1885, to whom she dedicated “Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover and who appeared in other works of hers.

A weaver of ties, a tireless polemicist in favour of a more enlightened and just model of society, Vernon Lee strongly supported the fight against fascism and during the First World War made her Villa Il Palmerino an international asylum for refugees in the heart of Europe. Faced with the rise of fear before the Second World War she declared: «We should group everywhere those who are not afraid, who are not afraid to take risks» (Miss Paget, Journal de Berthe Noufflard, 20/07/1934) She was then 78 years old…

On the eve of her death, the last book she read was a geopolitical work by Jules Romains, Problèmes européens (Paris: Flammarion, 1933), which stated in particular: “It is banal to note that the justification of European nationalisms and antagonisms for ethnographic reasons is not serious.” (p. 21)

A viewpoint shared with Lee’s friend, Romain Rolland, who wrote to her in 1910:

“A country’s language has nothing to do with its nationality. We do not have the idea of claiming Geneva or Brussels because people speak French there (…) What matters alone (and more and more, in the course of history), is the will of a people, its moral attractions, the strength of common traditions, the personal character of its civilization.  (…) As long as I live, I will not cease to defend the rights of the oppressed and conquered peoples–and above all, those of our Europe who are great moral personalities, secular souls: Alsace, Poland, Finland, etc.” (Romain Rolland to Miss Paget, 3 July 1910, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Manuscrits)

Here is what Lee wrote:

“I believe that in the depths of my horror at participating in this war, despite all the good or bad reasons for doing so, there has always been the intuition that today … the international entanglement, the enormity of the human masses and the complexity of all our civilization, necessarily turns every war into an attack on the unknown – the means and the concomitant circumstances so monstrously exceed all prediction and all will.

Finally, I only hope for some peace, a viable regime, out of all the chaos of bad influences and abominable passions that the war unleashed, at least in our lifetime, dear Mathilde. ” (Vernon Lee, letter to Mathilde Hecht, 36 Fitz James Avenue, West Kensington, London W, 21 May 1919)

But hope endured. Vernon Lee fought against the war, she fought for peace, with all her might. How? by her open letters, and by her ART. One must read or reread the revolutionary pacifist text that she wrote during the war years, in exile in London far from her home in Florence: Satan the Waster, a philosophic war trilogy (1920), developped from her Ballet of the Nations: A Present-Day Morality (1915) dedicated to Romain Rolland and to “men of goodwill” and recently translated into Italian: Satana il Dilapidore. This avant-garde political fable boldly expresses Lee’s vision of the political situation in the West and her intellectual and personal commitment from the beginning of the 20th century to the interwar period (South Africa, France, Germany, Alsace, Italy, England, Ireland, India, Russia, Poland, Finland, etc.). It was masterfully represented at Villa Il Palmerino in 2019 (see here) on the advice of Sally Blackburn-Daniels (see here), directed by Angeliki Papoulia and produced by Federica Parretti.

Beyond her love for this geographical Europe which she crossed every year throughout her life, Vernon Lee called for a political Europe. She contributed to its construction, because she believed in dialogue and peace within a true Concert of Nations.

She too would have stood up for Ukraine.

STOP the Russian war in Ukraine!

Зупинити російську війну в Україні


Herward Sieberg 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. With a Foreword by Phyllis Mannocchi. Lewiston/Lampeter : Edwin Mellen Press, 2014. 463 pages.

Blackburn-Daniels, S., (2020) “A Present-Day Morality for the Present Day”, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 2020(30). doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/ntn.2931

Gagel, Amanda, “Vernon Lee’s Satan the Waster: Pacifism and the Avant-Garde”, Brewminate, May 21, 2019 https://brewminate.com/vernon-lees-satan-the-waster-pacifism-and-the-avant-garde

Blackburn-Daniels, Sally & Sophie Geoffroy (2021) “Traces of the exotic” in Vernon Lee’s “Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover”, Women’s Writing, 28:4, 569-588, DOI: 10.1080/09699082.2021.1985294

Geoffroy, Sophie (ed.), Artisans de la paix et passeurs/Peacemakers and bridgebuilders, Paris: Michel Houdiard ed., 2018.

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« Les esprits libres se comprennent, s’unissent par-dessus les frontières » (Vernon Lee, 18 Juillet 1934)

Chers lecteurs,

l’invasion de l’Ukraine par la Russie et ses conséquences humaines m’ont laissée littéralement sans voix ces jours-ci. L’Histoire met à l’épreuve nos convictions humanistes, pacifistes, idéalistes en nous plaçant dans une situation analogue à celle de nos parents ou grands-parents qui, de près ou de loin, vécurent la guerre, combattirent sur le champ de bataille ou furent témoins des événements. Comment assister en simples spectateurs à cet attentat contre la paix qu’est une invasion, une guerre d’occupation? Que dire? Que faire?

“Nos hommes d’état, dans leur panique vindicative, préparent pour l’avenir des guerres non pas de revanche, mais de vengeance qui dépasseront tout ce que nous avons vu ! Jamais, sous prétexte de punir la mauvaise foi et l’inhumanité, on n’a traité des peuples (…) avec une mauvaise foi et une inhumanité pareilles ; jamais le militarisme et tout ce qui s’y rattache, n’a triomphé à ce point.” (Vernon Lee, lettre à Mathilde Hecht, 8 Février 1921)

D’abord, poster ici un simple drapeau, sans commentaire, hier, est un premier témoignage de notre solidarité avec le peuple ukrainien qui résiste vaillamment à l’oppresseur pour faire respecter ses droits: le droit de tous les peuples à disposer d’eux-mêmes.

Puis, chercher un message à transmettre, pour que The Sibyl soit porteuse de lumière en ces temps obscurs. Vernon Lee peut-elle être une source d’inspiration pour le temps présent?

Elle aussi a vécu sous les bombes, dans un meublé à Londres, durant la première guerre mondiale, et la terrible situation des Ukrainiens sous les bombes nous la rend plus “actuelle”:

“Je vis avec un « respirateur » contre les bombes de chlorine dans mon tiroir et un seau de sable dans ma cheminée ! Voilà où nous en sommes venus ! Remarquez que pour le cas où pareille bombe abrège mes jours, mon exécuteur testamentaire se trouve être Mrs Forbes-Mosse avec qui je suis en train de me brouiller comme avec mes chauvins d’ici et qui jamais, je pense, ne voudra plus remettre les pieds en Italie. Oh la haine, chère Mathilde, la stupide, imbécile haine !” (lettre à Mathilde Hecht, 16 Juin 1915)

Rappelons que Vernon Lee (Violet Paget) est marquée par une enfance cosmopolite et nomade liée aux bouleversements politiques (le Siège de Paris pendant la guerre de 1870, puis la Commune de Paris) et peut-être par une certaine expérience transgénérationnelle de l’exil. Elle se confie à son amie française la peintre Berthe Noufflard, qui la cite dans son journal:

« Mon grand-père avait été professeur en Pologne –mon père y avait été élevé –et puis y avait travaillé comme ingénieur—Il avait participé à la construction du chemin-de-fer Varsovie-Moscou. Il en avait conservé l’horreur des persécutions russes et prussiennes –Il avait émigré en France avec des Polonais en 1849 –il avait même fait partie de la Garde Nationale à Paris » (Miss Paget, Journal de Berthe Noufflard, 28 juillet 1934)

Sa sensibilité à la cause de la Pologne et de la Finlande résonne aujourd’hui particulièrement:

« A Londres, pendant la guerre, j’ai été approchée, invitée par de jeunes patriotes polonais– Très charmants– <formant un club>– aimables au plus haut degré—qui me demandaient si les radicaux anglais ne pourraient pas s’intéresser à la cause de la Pologne. » (Miss Paget, Journal de Berthe Noufflard, 28/07/1934)

« Des Finlandais aussi –un critique d’art que je voyais beaucoup alors –Il n’y avait rien à faire » « Et la cause polonaise, la cause finlandaise, c’était des histoires avec quoi il ne fallait pas ennuyer nos alliés. » (Miss Paget, Journal de Berthe Noufflard, 28/07/1934)

N’oublions pas son amitié pour le poète et diplomate Peter (“Pierre”) Boutourline (Petr Dmitrievich Buturlin; 1859–1895), né à Florence, parti à Kiev, Tagantcha, en janvier 1885, à qui elle dédicace “Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover” et qui apparaît dans d’autres ouvrages.

Tisseuse de liens, infatigable polémiste en faveur d’un modèle de société plus éclairé et plus juste, Vernon Lee soutient ardemment la lutte contre le fascisme et fait pendant la première guerre mondiale de sa Villa Il Palmerino un asile international pour les réfugiés au cœur de l’Europe. Face à la montée de la peur avant la deuxième guerre mondiale elle déclare: « Il faudrait grouper, partout, ceux qui n’ont pas peur, qui ne craignent pas de prendre des risques » (Miss Paget, Journal de Berthe Noufflard, 20/07/1934) Elle a alors 78 ans…

Sa dernière lecture la veille de sa mort sera un ouvrage de géopolitique de Jules Romains, Problèmes européens (Paris: Flammarion, 1933), qui déclare notamment: “Il est banal de constater que la justification des nationalismes et des antagonismes européens par des raisons ethnographiques n’a rien de sérieux.” (p. 21)

De même, son ami Romain Rolland:

“La langue d’un pays n’a rien à voir avec sa nationalité. Nous n’avons pas l’idée de revendiquer Genève ou Bruxelles parce qu’on y parle français (…) Ce qui importe seul (et de plus en plus, au cours de l’histoire), c’est la volonté d’un peuple, ses attractions morales, la force des traditions communes, le caractère personnel de sa civilisation. (…) Tant que je vivrai, je ne cesserai de défendre les droits des peuples opprimés et conquis, –et avant tout, de ceux de notre Europe qui sont de grandes personnalités morales, des âmes séculaires : Alsace, Pologne, Finlande, etc.” (Romain Rolland à Miss Paget, 3 Juillet 1910, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Manuscrits)

Donnons-lui la parole pour finir:

“Je crois qu’au fond de l’horreur que m’a fait la participation à cette guerre, malgré toutes les raisons bonnes ou mauvaises pour l’avoir fait, il y a eu toujours l’intuition que de nos jours où tout se multiplie au-delà du concevable par l’enchevêtrement international, l’énormité des masses humaines et la complexité de toute notre civilisation, toute guerre devenait nécessairement un attentat à l’inconnu –les moyens et les circonstances concomitantes dépassent si monstrueusement toute prévision et toute volonté.

Enfin je n’espère plus qu’une paix quelconque, qu’un régime viable, sorti de tout ce chaos de mauvaises influences et d’abominables passions que la guerre a déchaînées, du moins de notre vivant, chère Mathilde. ” (Vernon Lee, lettre à Mathilde Hecht, 36 Fitz James Avenue, West Kensington, London W, 21 Mai 1919

Vernon Lee combattit la guerre, lutta pour la paix, de toutes ses forces. Comment? par ses lettres ouvertes, et par son ART. Il faut lire ou relire le texte pacifiste révolutionnaire qu’elle rédigea pendant les années de guerre, en exil à Londres loin de sa maison à Florence: Satan the Waster, a philosophic war trilogy (1920), developpement de son The Ballet of the Nations: A Present-Day Morality (1915) dédié à Romain Rolland et aux “hommes de bonne volonté” et récemment traduit en Italien: Satana il Dilapidore. Et magistralement représenté à la Villa Il Palmerino en 2019 (voir ici) sur les conseils de Sally Blackburn-Daniels (voir ici), mis en scène Angeliki Papoulia et produit par Federica Parretti.

Cette fable politique d’avant-garde exprime avec audace sa vision de la situation politique en occident et son engagement intellectuel et personnel dès le début du XXème siècle et jusque dans l’entre-deux-guerres (France, Allemagne, Alsace, Italie, Angleterre, Irlande, Inde, Russie, Pologne, Finlande…). Au-delà de son amour pour cette Europe géographique qu’elle traversa tous les ans tout au long de sa vie, Vernon Lee appelait de ses voeux une Europe politique. Elle contribua à sa construction, parce qu’elle croyait au dialogue et à la paix au sein d’un véritable Concert des Nations.

Mais avant toute chose, le bruit des bottes doit cesser. Nous disons NON à la guerre russe en Ukraine!


Blackburn-Daniels, S., (2020) “A Present-Day Morality for the Present Day”, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 2020(30). doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/ntn.2931

Gagel, Amanda, “Vernon Lee’s Satan the Waster: Pacifism and the Avant-Garde”, Brewminate, May 21, 2019 https://brewminate.com/vernon-lees-satan-the-waster-pacifism-and-the-avant-garde

Blackburn-Daniels, Sally & Sophie Geoffroy (2021) “Traces of the exotic” in Vernon Lee’s “Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover”, Women’s Writing, 28:4, 569-588, DOI: 10.1080/09699082.2021.1985294

Geoffroy, Sophie (ed.), Artisans de la paix et passeurs/Peacemakers and bridgebuilders, Paris: Michel Houdiard ed., 2018.

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In memoriam: Vernon Lee, 13 February 1935

87 years ago, Violet Paget passed away at her Villa Il Palmerino in Florence.

The painter Berthe Noufflard, whose beautiful portraits of Vernon Lee truly deserve a public exhibition, and who was “Miss Paget’s” friend over the last ten years of her life when she used to stay at,the Noufflards’ homes in Paris and in Fresnay-le-Long (Normandy) every year for a few weeks, was devastated. On hearing about the sad news, she started writing a diary recollecting the happy or striking memories of her conversations with Vernon Lee.

Discover this unique testimony and subtle and lively portrayal of Vernon Lee as seen through the painter’s eyes: Journal de Berthe Noufflard après la mort de Miss Paget – 1935-1936

The collection presents the original manuscripts of Berthe Noufflard’s diary: 13 entries dated from 15 February 1935 to 23 September 1936. They have been indexed and are therefore searchable according to the principles of our database Holographical-Lee (HoL)
Vernon Lee (Violet Paget) : Letters, notebooks and manuscripts – Lettres, carnets et manuscrits.
Links to other documents in the database (e.g. portraits, pictures, newspaper clipping and letters) are also added. More about the Noufflard archive here.

Here are a few pictures of the happy moments they spent together at Fresnay-le-Long, captured by André Noufflard’s camera and extracted from his films.

Miss Paget and Berthe Noufflard at Fresnay-le-Long, Summer 1934
Berthe Noufflard and Miss Paget at Fresnay-le-Long ca. 1932
Berthe Noufflard, Geneviève Noufflard and Miss Paget, Fresnay-le-Long, Summer 1934
Miss Paget and Berthe Noufflard, Fresnay-le-Long, Summer 1934
Berthe Noufflard and Miss Paget at Fresnay-le-Long. From a film by André Noufflard

For longer extracts from André Noufflard’s films (courtesy of Geneviève Noufflard and of Mémoire Normande, where the films were restored and are housed), see our Vimeo channel VERNON LEE ONLINE. It presents interviews of the painters’ youngest daughter, Geneviève Noufflard, and many other documents! Discover Vernon Lee, moving and smiling, as perhaps you never imagined she could be!

Thanks for your continued support, and we hope to welcome you onboard the International Vernon Lee Society soon!

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Call for Papers: Vernon Lee, Aesthetics and Empathy, Cambridge, 12-13 September 2022

We are delighted to share the organisers’ Call for Papers of a Conference on Vernon Lee’s aesthetics, to be held on at Churchill College, Cambridge on the 12th and 13th September 2022, which is to be held in person unless the situation compels them to organise it differently. The complete call is to be found at https://fass.open.ac.uk/research/conferences/VLAE/cfp

“Vernon Lee was the penname of Violet Paget (1856-1935). She has been best known for her contributions to supernatural fiction, such as Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales (1889), and For Maurice, Five Unlikely Stories (1927).

However, with the rise of interest in empathy, her work on aesthetics is enjoying somewhat of a revival. She, together with her partner Clementina ‘Kit’ Anstruther-Thompson performed several empirical studies concerning viewers’ reactions to visual art. She also made cogent criticisms of German aesthetic theories of Einfühlung in Beauty and Ugliness (1912), attempting to refine the theory into acceptable form. Lee closely followed this with The Beautiful: An Introduction to Psychological Aesthetics (1913), Music and Its Lovers: An Empirical Study of Emotional and Imaginative Responses to Music (1923) as well as collaborating on, editing and introducing Anstruther-Thomson’s Art and Man: Essays and Fragments (1924).  As well as being an inheritor of a nineteenth century German tradition, she can be seen as a precursor of Formalism and an influence on current aesthetic theory via her work on empathy. Papers are invited on all aspects of her work in aesthetics.

Submissions should be around 5000 words (for a 35 – 40 minute presentation) and prepared for blind review. The closing date for submissions is 1st July 2022.

We would particularly like to encourage submissions on:

  • Aesthetics and collaboration
  • Aesthetic influence
  • Aesthetic theories
  • Aesthetic senses and sensuality

We welcome work that is interdisciplinary, or from the fields of English Literature, Philosophy, Music, and Queer and Gender Studies, but this list is far from exhaustive.

If you would like to discuss potential ideas, the organisers would be delighted to hear from you.”

The Organisers

Sally Blackburn-Daniels

Derek Matravers

Front page of Vernon Lee’s MSS – Langweil-Halévy-Noufflard archive at Holographical Lee (HoL) https://eman-archives.org/HoL

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Peace and Goodwill for a Happy New Year: the Golden Keys

Vernon Lee – portrait extracted from a film by André Noufflard, ca. 1932

The Genius Loci is that portion of nations and civilisations which, while it speaks aloud in their philosophy and poetry and music, and is written clearly in the shapes of their buildings, addresses itself to the initiate minds in their humbler habits, kindly and gracious, sometimes childish and funny : in the little boxes for winter-starved birds in German and Swiss villages ; the wheels for friendly storks, and the be-ribboned Christmas trees on newly carpentered roofs ; in these as much as in the classic ever-green garlands which Italians and Greeks hang even now round their church doors, or the dionysiac bunch of grapes still placed by the vintners of Burgundy between the broken stone fingers of the Mother of Christ. Things, all these, which involve for their heartfelt recognition just what the war and its war-breeding settlement have made, for the time being, an end of ; and what judicious persons warned me against mentioning on my title page. To wit, Peace and Goodwill.

You doubtless remember that the English speaking angels present at the Nativity ventured on the (rather rash ?) announcement that peace and goodwill were coming upon earth ; whereas the wilier angels of Latin speech made the proviso that men must possess goodwill before the could witness any such desirable novelty : Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis, i.e., and on Earth Peace to, through or by reason of (dative or ablative), men of goodwill. But whichever way we choose to interpret this doubtful passage of the Scripture, this much is, to me, certain –namely, that the Genius Loci is a little divinity whose delicate and protean manifestations betoken, nay require, the presence of that peace and goodwill. That is why I am glad to have consecrated so much paper and ink and passionate care to his, albeit seemingly frivolous, service.

(Vernon Lee, Dedication of The Golden Keys to Mona Taylor, Florence, October 1924)

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“Perhaps because it was Christmas Eve…”

Dear readers,

Chers amis de Vernon Lee,

with this charming piece from Vernon Lee’s collection Hortus Vitae, we wish you all a merry Christmas!

avec ce charmant texte extrait du recueil de Vernon Lee Hortus Vitae nous vous souhaitons un très joyeux Noël.

We hope to find you refreshed and happily looking forward to a joyful optimistic leap into 2022, with our exciting forthcoming Vernon Lee event in Boulogne-sur-Mer (France) and perhaps in England too.

Nous espérons vous retrouver reposés et en pleine forme pour envisager avec joie de plonger bientôt dans la nouvelle année et ses promesses passionnantes: nos retrouvailles en France à l’occasion de l’AG de l’IVLS et du colloque de Boulogne-sur-Mer, et peut-être en Angleterre également.

Best season greetings

Joyeux Noël à tous et toutes!


Vernon Lee, Hortus Vitae

“It doesn’t seem to be precisely what is meant by old paste,” she answered, repeating the expression I had just made use of, while she handed me the diamond hoop across the table. “It’s too like real stones, you know. I think it must be a stage jewel.”

As I fastened the brooch again in my dress, I was aware of a sudden little change in my feelings. I was no longer pleased. Not that I had hoped my diamonds might prove real; you cannot buy real diamonds, even in imagination, for four francs, which was the precise sum I had expended on these, and there were seven of them, all uncommonly large. Nor can I say that the words “old paste” had possessed, on my lips, any plain or positive meaning. But stage jewel, somehow … My moral temperature had altered: I was dreadfully conscious that I was no longer pleased. Now, I had been, and to an absurd degree.

Perhaps because it was Christmas Eve, when I suddenly found myself inside that curiosity shop, pricing the diamonds, and not without an emotion of guilty extravagance, and of the difficulty of not buying if the price proved too high…. As is always the case with me at that season, my soul was irradiated with a vague sense of festivity, perhaps with the lights of rows of long-extinguished Christmas trees in the fog of many years, like the lights of the shops caught up and diffused in the moist twilight. I had felt an inner call for a Christmas present; and, so far, nobody had given me one. So I had paid the money and driven back into the dark, soughing country with the diamond hoop loose in my pocket. I had felt so very pleased…. And now those two cursed words “stage jewel” had come and spoilt it all.

For the first time I felt it was very, very hard that my box should have been broken open last autumn and all my valuables, my Real (the word became colossal), not stage, jewels stolen. It was brought home to me for the first time that the man who did it must have been very, very wicked; and that codes of law, police and even prisons could afford satisfaction to my feelings. Since, oddly enough, I had really not minded much at the time, nor let my pleasure in that wonderful old castle, where I had just arrived with the violated trunk, be in the least diminished by the circumstance. Indeed, such is the subtle, sophistic power of self-conceit, that the pleasure of finding, or thinking I found, that I did not mind the loss of those things had really, I believe, prevented me minding it. Though, of course, every now and then I had wished I might see again the little old-fashioned fleur-de-lysed star which had been my mother’s (my heart smote me for not feeling sufficiently how much she would have suffered at my losing it). And I remembered how much I had liked to play with those opals of the Queen of Hearts, which seemed the essence of pale-blue winter days with a little red flame of sunset in the midst; or, rather, like tiny lunar worlds, mysterious shining lakes and burning volcanoes in their heart. Of course, I had not been indifferent: that would have taken away all charm from the serenity with which I had enjoyed my loss. But I had been serene, delightfully serene. And now!…

There was something vaguely vulgar, odious, unpardonable about false stones. I had always maintained there was not, but the stage jewel made me feel it. Mankind has sound instincts, rooting in untold depths of fitness; and superfine persons, setting themselves against them,
reveal their superficiality, their lack of normal intuition and sound judgment, while fancying themselves superior. And mankind (save among barbarous Byzantine and Lombard kings, who encrusted their iron crowns impartially with balas rubies, antique cameos, and bottle
glass)–mankind has always shown an instinct against sham jewels and their wearers. It is an unreasoned manifestation of the belief in truth as the supreme necessity for individuals and races, without which, as we know, there would be an end of commerce, the administration of justice, government, even family life (for birds, who have no such sense, are proverbially ignorant of their father), and everything which we call civilization. Real precious stones were perhaps created by Nature, and sham stones allowed to be created by man, as one of those moral symbols in which the universe abounds: a mysterious object-lesson of the difference between truth and falsehood.

Real diamonds and rubies, I believe, require quite a different degree of heat to melt them than mere glass or paste; and you can amuse yourself, if you like, by throwing them in the fire. In the Middle Ages rubies, but only real ones, were sovereign remedies for various diseases, among others the one which carried off Lorenzo the Magnificent; and in the seventeenth century it was currently reported that the minions of the Duke of Orleans had required pounded diamonds to poison poor Madame Henriette in that glass of chicory water. And as to pearls, real ones go yellow if unworn for a few months, and have to be sunk fathoms deep in the sea, in safes with chains and anchors, and detectives sitting day and night upon the beach, and sentries in sentry-boxes; none of which occurs with imitations. Likewise you stamp on a real pearl, while you must be quite careful not to crush a sham
one. All these are obvious differences revealing the nobility of the real thing, though not necessarily adding to its charm. But, then, there is the undoubted greater beauty, the wonderful je ne sais quoi, the depth of colour, purity of substance, effulgence of fire, of real gems, which we all recognize, although it is usual to have them tested by an expert before buying. And, when all is said and done, there is the difference in intrinsic value. And you need not imagine that value is a figment. Political economy affords us two different standards of value, the Marxian and the Orthodox. So you cannot escape from believing in it. A thing is valuable either (a) according to the amount of labour it embodies, or (b) according to the amount of goods or money you can obtain in exchange for it. Now, only let your mind dwell upon the value (a) embodied in a pearl or diamond. The pearl fisher, who doubtless frequently gets drowned; let alone the oyster, which has to have a horrid mortal illness, neither of which happens to the mean-spirited artificer of Roman pearls; or the diamond seeker, seeking through deserts for months; the fine diamond merchant, dying in caravans, of the past; and, finally, the diamond-cutter, grinding that adamant for weeks far, far more indefatigably than to make the optic lenses which reveal hidden planets and galaxies. All that labour, danger, that weary, weary time embodied in a thing so tiny that, like Queen Mab, it can sit on an alderman’s forefinger! What could be more deeply satisfactory to think upon? And as to value (b) (the value in Exchange of Mill, Fawcett, Marshall, Say, Bastiat, Gide), just think what you could buy by selling a largish diamond, supposing you had one! And what unlikely prices (fabulous, even monstrous) are said to have been given, before and after dubious Madame de la Motte priced that great typical one, for diamond necklaces by queens and heroines of every degree!

Precious stones, therefore, are heaven-ordained symbols of what mankind values most highly–power over other folks’ labour, time, life, happiness, and honour. And that, no doubt, is the reason that when the irreproachable turn-out and perfect manners of pickpockets allow them to mix freely in our select little gatherings, it is legitimate for a lady to deck herself with artificial pearls and diamonds only to the exact extent that she has real ones safely deposited at the bank. Let her look younger and sound honester than perhaps answers to the precise reality; there is no deception in all that. But think of the dishonourableness of misleading other folk about one’s income….

My soul was chastened by the seriousness of these reflections and by the recognition of the moral difference between real stones and sham ones, and I was in a very bad humour. Suddenly there came faint sounds of guitars and a mandolin, and I remembered that the servants were giving a ball at the other end of the house, and that it was Christmas Eve. I rose from my table and opened the window, letting in the music with the pure icy air. The night had become quite clear; and in its wintry blue the big stars sparkled in a cluster between the branches of my pine tree. They made me think of the circlet which Tintoret’s Venus swoops down with over the head of the ruddy Bacchus and rose-white Ariadne. Those, also, I said to myself ill-humouredly, were probably stage jewels…. I cannot account for the sudden train of associations this word evoked: sweeping, magnificent gestures, star-like eyes, and a goddess’ brows shining through innumerable years; a bar or two of melodious ritornello; an ineffable sense of poetry and grandeur, and–but I am not sure–a note or two of a distant, distant voice. Could it be Malibran–or Catalani … and was my stage jewel bewitched, a kind of Solomon’s ring, conjuring up great spirits? All I can say is
that I have rarely spent a Christmas Eve like that one, while the servants’ ball was going on at the other end of the house, furbishing my imitation diamonds with a silk handkerchief, alone, or perhaps not alone, in my study.

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AAP: Vernon Lee et le fantastique, Boulogne-sur-Mer, 13-14 Octobre 2022

Portrait of Vernon Lee, after John Singer Sargent @Gilles Pasquet. Paint on fabric

La femme de lettres aux talents multiples, romancière, nouvelliste, théoricienne, Vernon Lee a laissé sa marque très tôt dans le domaine de la littérature fantastique.

Plusieurs œuvres, notamment celles réunies dans le recueil Hauntings, d’autres encore comme Alberic and the Snake Lady, se servent d’un environnement teinté de surnaturel véritable ou suggéré pour poser les questions récurrentes de l’univers vernonien : l’oeuvre d’art (sculpture, portrait, musique), le genius loci (bien souvent l’Italie de la Renaissance ou du XVIIIe siècle, mais aussi de l’Antiquité gréco-romaine, l’Angleterre des grandes demeures jacobéennes), dans un entre-deux avec le présent, celui d’une époque plus récente, où la fascination venue du passé viendra bouleverser les repères.

Ces schémas narratifs, identifiés par les familiers des textes théoriques de Vernon Lee comme l’invasion de l’apollinien par le dionysiaque, abolissent les frontières entre le passé et le présent et entre les personnes.

Comment évaluer et comprendre le fantastique (conçu comme l’irruption du surnaturel dans le quotidien) lorsque Vernon Lee laisse entendre un processus essentiellement psychologique plus complexe qu’un phénomène purement surnaturel comme dans l’histoire de fantômes classique ? Y-a-t-il une marge d’interprétation entre, d’une part, la position adoptée par Vernon Lee dans ses écrits théoriques selon laquelle c’est la confrontation physique avec l’oeuvre d’art, le portrait, le lieu naturel ou bâti qui suscite une « empathie » et partant de là une sensation de hantise, et d’autre part, le postulat de tant de récits fantastiques qui accordent à certaines personnalités puissantes une existence post-mortem et la capacité de répondre à l’appel qu’un vivant, insatisfait de sa vie présente, leur lance ?

Plus largement, on pourra comparer Vernon Lee et d’autres auteurs qui partagent les mêmes prédilections tant géographiques qu’historiques et artistiques (notamment sa célébration de la Renaissance, une Renaissance décadente certes, souvent cruelle), évaluer sa place au sein d’une littérature en plein essor à la fin du XIXe siècle, la « New Romance », illustrée notamment par une autre femme de lettres, Marie Corelli, les inévitables parallélismes avec Oscar Wilde, et finalement, dans les récits qui témoignent d’un drame ancien qui fait planer sa malédiction sur les descendants des premiers protagonistes, évoquer des ressemblances avec Edgar Poë et même H.P. Lovecraft.

Finalement, la résurgence de l’Antiquité, ses œuvres d’art, ses dieux, relierait Vernon Lee à une galaxie littéraire qui rassemble des auteurs tels Prosper Mérimée, Arthur Machen, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Wilhelm Jensen, Robert W. Chambers, Théophile Gautier et bien d’autres, tandis que la fascination qu’exerce le portrait de la Renaissance, le portrait « hanté » n’est pas sans rappeler Robert Browning, les méditations de Walter Pater sur la Joconde, sans oublier, à des degrés divers, des romanciers comme Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James et James Branch Cabell, qui ont tous accordé un pouvoir quasi surnaturel à des portraits anciens, lorsque ces derniers sont évocateurs d’une grande tragédie.

Les communications seront acceptées en Français ou en Anglais.

Merci d’envoyer un résumé (300 mots) de votre proposition accompagné d’une courte présentation biographique au plus tard le 14 Avril 2022 à :



Pr Marc Rolland, Professeur à l’Université Littoral Côte d’Opale, est l’auteur du récent ouvrage Epouser la déesse, Essais sur la femme, le surnaturel et l’hyperbole, éditions Shaker Verlag, 2021.

Nous sommes heureux d’annoncer que l’événement annuel de l’International Vernon Lee Society, co-organisatrice du colloque, aura lieu pendant ce colloque fort opportunément organisé dans le lieu de naissance de Vernon Lee.

CFP : International Conference, Université de la Côte d’Opale (Boulogne-sur-Mer, France)

Vernon Lee’s Fantastic Fiction

13-14 October 2022

The multitalented woman of letters, writer of fiction, and theoretician Vernon Lee (Violet Paget, 1856-1935) very early –and deeply—marked the field of fantastic literature.

Many of her works, like those gathered in the collection Hauntings or such as “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady”, make use of a background immersed in the supernatural, be it real or suggested, to deal with questions that are recurrent in her work. Art works (sculptures, portraits, music) or the genius loci (often the spirit of Renaissance or Eighteenth Century Italy, but also Greek and Roman Antiquity, or the great Jacobean houses in England), often provide in-between, liminal spaces that border on the present and the past, broken into by a fascination with the historic that disrupts all topographical and temporal landmarks.

Readers familiar with Vernon Lee’s theoretical texts have identified narrative patterns such as the Apollonian being overwhelmed by the Dionysiac, or the frontier between past and present or between people being abolished.

This conference hopes to ask, if we consider the fantastic as the irruption of the supernatural in everyday life, how can we then assess and understand Lee’s fantastic fiction when her own texts and theory suggest a complex, fundamentally psychological process, rather than supernatural phenomena as described in classic ghost stories?

It is possible to argue that Lee’s chosen theoretical posture on the fantastic reveals itself when empathy is evoked by a work of art, a portrait, a natural place or a building which arouses a feeling of “hauntedness”. Yet at the core of so many ghost stories (some too, by Lee), there is the assumption that the powerful personalities of the past can be endowed with a supernatural existence being willed to do so by the dissatisfied living. So how should one interpret Lee’s fantastic texts?

This conference would like to interrogate Lee’s position on, and place within fantastic literature. We would also welcome broader comparisons between Vernon Lee and other writers who shared similar geographical, historical or artistic predilections. Lee’s decadent and cruel celebration of the Renaissance may situate her within the “New Romance” movement whicb boomed in the late 19th century and is exemplified by another woman of letters, Marie Corelli. There may also be the inevitable parallels with Oscar Wilde, or resemblances drawn between Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft’s ancient drama having cast a curse on the initial protagonist’s descendants.

Perhaps the resurgence and the revival of art works or of gods and goddesses from Antiquity may connect Vernon Lee with a literary galaxy gathering authors like Prosper Mérimée, Arthur Machen, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Wilhelm Jensen, Robert W. Chambers, Théophile Gautier and many others, while the fascination of Renaissance portraits or haunted portraits is reminiscent of Robert Browning, of Walter Pater’s meditations on Mona Lisa, not to mention, to different degrees, novelists like Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James and James Branch Cabell, all of whom endowed old portraits suggestive of some great tragedy with quasi supernatural powers.

We invite papers in French or in English.

Please send you 300-word abstract and short personal resume no later that 14 April 2022 to Pr. Marc ROLLAND


Pr Marc Rolland, Professor at the Université Littoral Côte d’Opale, recently published Epouser la déesse, Essais sur la femme, le surnaturel et l’hyperbole, éditions Shaker Verlag, 2021.

We are delighted to announce that the annual event of the International Vernon Lee Society, co-organiser of the conference, is scheduled during this conference most aptly taking place in Vernon Lee’s own birthplace.

@Gilles Pasquet. Paint on fabric
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Eugene Lee-Hamilton and the Paris Commune: letters to his family

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UPDATE: IVLS annual event: Humanism and Freethought with Humanists UK

Portrait of Clementina Anstruther-Thomson by John Singer Sargent, 1889

Dear readers, followers and friends,

Yesterday was Violet Paget’s birthday. Born on 14th of October 1856 at Château St Léonard, Boulogne-sur-mer, she would have been 165 this year. When she was born, the doctor congratulated her mother with a typical understatement: “Madame, je n’ai rien à vous reprocher !” (Madam, I’ve nothing to blame you for)

Like every year since 2013, October 14 also marks our annual event, the 8th one since the creation of International Vernon Lee Society –doesn’t time fly! While we may be sorry we have to meet online again owing to sanitary restrictions, it cannot be denied that such cyber meetings do allow scattered Vernon Lee scholars like us to gather in a single, although virtual, place. And the general meeting of the IVLS will also be held online on October 26, with, hopefully, good news about our 2022 activities.

Now, 2021 also marks two important anniversaries. First, it is the centenary of the death of the humanist and art theoretician Clementina Anstruther-Thomson. The IVLS felt we must pay a tribute to the woman who was Vernon Lee’s long time partner and much else besides in her own right, quite apart from her romantic friendship for Lee.

Indeed, “Kit” Anstruther-Thomson belonged to the West London Ethical Society, and 2021 also happens to be the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of our partner association, Humanists UK founded in 1896 as the union of Ethical Societies. Our invited speaker, historian Madeleine Goodall, is a researcher in community history, the history of humanism and of the West London Ethical Society. She is the Humanist Heritage Coordinator for Humanists UK, researching and writing to celebrate the organisation’s 125th birthday, and has published an important article which attracted our attention: « Heroines of freethought: women of the early humanist movement » (Nov. 2020). She has developped the very resourceful website Humanist Heritage.

Madeleine Goodall’s lecture can be viewed here: “‘A Hundred Ways Other People Wouldn’t”: the Humanism of Clementina Anstruther-Thomson”.

The voice recording is accessible in mp4 format here.

We are particularly grateful for the members of Humanists UK for generously sharing their celebration with us. All the more so as their values and struggles have always been consistent with those that led to the Law of December 9, 1905 (Separation of church and state) in France.

“The freedom to think for ourselves is at the heart of the humanist philosophy, and humanists and freethinkers have long defended the right to do so, often in the face of significant persecution. The history of the humanist tendency contains the stories of many labelled heretics, infidels, or blasphemers, for pursuing their own reason and challenging the authority of the Church.” https://heritage.humanists.uk/themes-overview/

Today, when France is mourning for the barbaric murder of Samuel Paty, who taught History and Geography in Conflans Sainte Honorine and was decapitated for teaching secularism and freedom of belief (laïcité), freedom of speech and freedom of thought in accordance to the values and the rules of secular public education in France, we express our sympathy for our colleague’s family, friends and colleagues.

“The humanist commitment to reason, kindness, inclusivity, and freedom of thought, means the non-religious have always been the natural allies of education, whether under the label of ‘freethinkers’, ‘rationalists’, or ‘humanists’.” https://heritage.humanists.uk/themes-overview/

This year’s event would have been impossible without the involvement and brilliant suggestions of our communications officer, Dr. Sally Blackburn-Daniels or without computing engineer Richard Walter’s continued help and support as coordinator of the EMAN digital humanities platform at the UMR “Théorie et histoire des arts et des littératures de la modernité”, THALIM-CNRS-ENS-Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, who must be thanked for hosting this Zoom session. Warmest thanks are due to them all.

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