Vernon Lee's Representative Works
- Euphorion: Being Studies of the Antique and the Medieval in the Renaissance
It was published in 1884 and the representative work of Lee’s beginning career. It is a collection of essays on art. The title “Euphorion” refers to a child born between Faust and Helena in Goethe’s Faust. Faust represents the middle age and Helena represents the ancient Greece, and Euphorion represents Renaissance. It means that Renaissance was born as the mixture of the middle age and the ancient Greece. It was under Walter Pater’s Renaissance but there is some difference between them as to artists they took up: Lee took up poems of Tasso, pictures of Velazquez and Ghirlandaio, and tragedies in the Jamesian tragedies.
Volume 1 consists of’Introduction','The Sacrifice','The Italy of the Elizabethan Dramatist','The Out-Door Poetry', and 'Symmetria Prisca.' 'Sacrifice' argues the relationship between Italian Renaissance and immorality, and asserts that evil and chaos are necessary for the progress of art. In 'The Italy of Elizabethan Dramatists,' Lee took up the dramatists of tragedy in the Elizabethan period such as Turner, Webster, and Ford and among them Lee highly valued John Ford as an artist who understood the Italian Renaissance. In 'The Out-Door Poetry,' Lee compared poems in ancient Greece and Rome to poems of “courtly love” in the middle age. In 'Symmetria Prisca,' Lee took up artists in Italian Renaissance such as Giotto as being influenced by Greek art and Renaissance in Germany as being not influenced by it, and asserted the priority of Greek art over Renaissance.
Volume 2 consists of 'The Portrait Art','The School of Boiardo','Medieval Love', and 'Epilogue.' In 'The Portrait Art,' Lee compared Greek sculptures to those of Renaissance. Strong influence of Winckelmann can be seen and she made negative remarks on sclptures with colors. The characteristic of Renaissance’s sculptures is to ask for realism in portrait sculpture and began to express death in sculpture, which was not expressed in Greek sculptures. And Lee argued that sculptures in the 19th century are an extension of the Renaissance. In 'The School of Boiardo,' Lee argued the mixture of Christianity and pagan deities (for example, Celtic myth and Arthurian legend) and poems of Ariosto, Boiardo, Tasso, and Spencer. In 'Medieval Love,' Lee first referred to Dante’s love for Beatrice (she argued that Beatrice is an existence with fresh and blood and her essence is “white fire of Dante’s love), and asserted it included a kind of Platonic love. As for love in the medieval castles, she wrote: "the woman soon ceases to be the exclusive property of her husband, and the husband speedily discovers that the majority, hence public ridicule, are against any attempt at monopolizing her. Thus adultery becomes, as we have seen, accepted as an institution under the name of service; and, like all other social institutions, develops a morality of its own―a morality within immorality, of faithfulness within infidelity."
In a letter to Blackwood in 1884, Lee wrote: "Euphorion was not sold in sheets. 250 copies were bought by Roberts; but at what price I cannot tell. There have been flourishing reviews of some other books of mine in New York & Boston papers of late, which may, I hope, create a demand for Miss Brown."(Selected Letters of Vernon Lee, Volume 1, P.604.)
- Baldwin:Being Dialogues on Views and Aspirations
It was published in 1886. It is a collection of essays consisting of the dialogue between Baldwin, a mouthpiece of Vernon Lee (though Lee herself denied that in 'Introduction') and Michael. The chapters are : 'Of Baldwin, Introductory','The Responsibilities of Unbelief','The Consolations of Belief','Of Honor and Evolution','Of Novels','The Value of the Ideal', and 'Of Doubts and Pessimism.'
In ‘Introduction,’ Lee wrote on education and gender: "The accident of education, carried on exclusively at home and in exceptional solitude, has placed this not very feminine man to some measure at a woman's standpoint, devoid of all discipline and tradition, full of irregularities and individualities. And the accident of family circumstances, carrying him from country to country, has made this very English Briton see questions of all sorts through variously tinted cosmopolitan glasses." She wrote that her educational environment gave her a character relieved from conventional sense of gender and a viewpoint of a cosmopolitan. Furthermore, she wrote that "all moral qualities were contained in the Beautiful."
In 'The Responsibilities of Unbelief,' Baldwin says that when he was young, he had an idea that only thing in life to be worth having is what is beautiful, but gradually he is changing the idea. And he says: "I began to perceive the frightful dissonances in the world, the horrible false notes, the abominable harmonies of good and evil; and to meet all this I had only this kind of negative materialism, which could not suffice to give me peace of mind, but which entirely precluded my accepting any kind of theory of spiritual compensation and ultimate justice; I grew uneasy, and then unhappy." It is interesting in considering the history of transition of Vernon Lee’s ideas on art. Moreover, as to the necessity of morality, he says: ”Morality, I now feel persuaded, is the exclusive and essential qualification of the movements of an assemblage of men."
In ’The Consolations of Belief,' Baldwin says: 'I am not a Christian; I do not care what may be taught or may not be taught. I believe in God, and in the goodness of God's will―that is all." Furthermore, "No, I am not an atheist: to be an atheist, a real atheist, means simply to disbelieve in the existence of a God."
In 'On Novels,' Lee argued the beauty in novels and wrote: "The novel has less value in art, but more importance in life." Novels are closer to real life than other forms of art, so she criticized novels describing evils in society like those by Zola. And she wrote about the ideal novels: "the novel itself must represent a compromise between the knowledge of how things are, and the desire for how things ought to be; the novel must represent what there is of good in the scientific spirit of France, and what there is of good in the moral spirit of England."
In 'Of Honor and Evolution,' Lee took up antivivisection, a controversial matter at that time, and argued over the advancement of science and morality.
In 'The Value of the Ideal,' Lee wrote: "For me (Baldwin) the ideal means simply the sufficiently beautiful, the something that satisfies, the great desideratum; and the desire for this perfect satisfaction, the quest of this supreme desideratum, is what I call idealism." She stated that art is the product of the starvation of a soul. Art should not by measured by the harmony with reality, but by the harmony with inner emotion of viewers.
In the last chapter 'Of Doubts and Pessimism,' she wrote: "Society requires to have recalled to it, if anything, that the distinction between good and evil has its origin, not in the conscience of the individual, but in the interests of the community" and denied the ideas of Baudelaire and Swinburne on sins and goodness and evil. And she furthermore wrote: "All this pessimism is due to selfishness." Besides, "Nothing can be more false or more pernicious than to bestow the glory of holiness upon suffering. Holiness means moral value; and suffering, as such, has no moral value whatsoever" wrote she, and it is interesting in considering Lee’s stance toward antivivisection movement.
Althea Dialogues is a sequel to this.
- 'A Wicked Voice'
It is included in a collection of fantastic stories Hauntings. It is one of the most famous works of Vernon Lee. Initially, it was published in French under the title of Voix Maudite.
The protagonist is Magnus, a composer who writes Wagnerian opera. It is set in Venetian the 1880s. In Venice, Magnus hears of the rumour about Zaffirino, a castrato singer in the 18th century. Zaffirino is a possessor of ‘wicked voice’ and he gives listeners not only ecstasy but also death. Maguns encounters the ghost of Zaffirino, listens to the singing voice, and loses the ability to compose. Zaffirino is modelled on Farinelli, a castrato.
Catherine Maxwell argues that Lee’s brother Eugene’s poem 'The Mandolin' gave Lee a hint to write this story.
Eugene Lee-Hamilton, 'The Mandolin'
But he, the cause of all,
I know not how, has risen from the dead,
And takes my life by stealing sleep away.
No sooner do I fall
Asleep each night, than, creeping light of tread
Beneath my window, he begins to play.
How well I know his touch! It takes my life
Less quickly but more surely than the knife.
Now 'tis a rapid burst
Of high and brilliant melody, which ceases
As soon as it has waked me with a leap.
And now a sound, at first
As faint as a gnat's humming, which increases
And creeps between the folded thoughts of sleep,
Tickling the brain, and keeping in suspense
Through night's long hours the o'er-excited sense.
(Vernon Lee,: Decadence, Ethics, Aesthetics, P.34.)
'A Winthrop's Adventure' in For Maurice is a prototype of 'A Wicked Voice.'
Carlo Caballero’s '”A Wicked Voice”: On Vernon Lee, Wagner and the Effects of Music’is an excellent article on ‘A Wicked Voice.’ (Victorian Studies 35: 4 (1992): 385-408.)
- 'A Wedding Chest'
It is included in a collection of fantastic stories Pope Jacynth published in 1905. It is a kind of vampire story. It is the most miserable story in Lee’s works and has similar tastes to tragedies in the Jamesian period such as Webster’s.
Wedding chests were gift given to brides and was popular in Italy from the 14th to 16th centuries. They were used to contain belongings of brides.
A protagonist, Desiderio, is an artisan and has a fiancée Madalena. He is ordered by Troilo, a tyrant aristocrat, to make a wedding chest. However, the day before the wedding ceremony, Madalena is kidnapped. One year later, the wedding chest Desiderio made himself was sent to him. In it were the bodies of Madalena without blood and of a baby. Desiderio swears to revenge Troilo. A few years later, Desiderio succeeds in killing Troilo, drinks his blood and spends the rest of his life with the body of Madalena.
It describes the love triangle in the form of vampire story. Two men vie with each other for a woman but because Troilo has a homosexual nature, it can be interpreted as a story of homosexuality. The act of sucking blood is a metaphor of homosexuality. Plus, it is a story of necrophilia. The story in which Desiderio exhumes the body of Madalena may be derived from the episode of D.G. Rossetti who exhumed his own poems buried with the body of Elizabeth Siddal.
This short story was dedicated to Marie Spartali Stillman, a friend of Vernon Lee. He was a painter who learned under Ford Madox Brown and was so beautiful a man that Rossetti employed him as a model. He met Lee for the first time in 1878 in Florence.
- 'Amour Dure'
It is included in a collection of fantastic stories Hauntings. Two Japanese-translated versions are available. ‘Amour’ means love. ‘Dure’ has two meanings: one is used as an adjective meaning ‘severe’ and another is used as a verb meaning ‘continue’ or ‘last.’
Initially, it was a novel with the title of Medea da Carpi, but on the ground that it applies historical facts to fiction, publishers rejected publishing it, and as a result Lee transformed it into a short story. In 1887, it was put on Murray's Magazine.
Agnolo Bronzino, an Italian painter in the 16th century, painted the portrait of Lucretia Panciatichi. On the necklace is inscribed "Amour Dure Sans Fin," which gave inspiration to Vernon Lee.
The narrator, Spiridion, a historian, researches Medea da Carpi, an infamous woman, and is gradually attracted to her. As a result, to restore the honour of Medea, he intends to write the history that deals with her historically fair. However, on the night of Christmas, he is lured by the ghost of Medea into a church, where he meets with the ghost, resulting in losing the ability to write history.
- 'Oke of Okehurst or a Phantom Lover'
It was first published in 1886 under the title of A Phantom Lover: A Fantastic Story and later included in Hauntings published in 1890. Among Lee’s fantastic stories only this story is set in England. When visiting England, Lee visited Goddington estate where her friends, Alfred Austin and his wife, lived. Goddington was the 17th-century style of manor house and Peter Gunn asserts that this is the model of the house of Okehurst in this story.
The narrator, a painter, visits the mansion of the Oke to make the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Oke. William Oke is a typical English gentleman. His wife, Alice, is a mysterious woman and admires her ancestor Alice who died about 200 years ago. It’s rumoured that the ghosts of Alice and her lover Lovelock appear in the mansion of the Oke, especially “yellow room.” William is afraid of the ghost of Lovelock and has a doubt that his wife and Lovelock have an affair, and shoots her to death.
It is a kind of ghost story but the ghost of Lovelock doesn’t appear. The existence of the ghost can be all delusion of Mr. and Mrs. Oke. Whether the ghost as an objective existence appears or not is ambiguous, so this work can be classified as ‘fantastic story’ Todorov defines. Alice who admires her ancestor Alice and hopes to identify herself with her may reflect Vernon Lee’s tendency toward lesbianism. Some critics argues that the model of the narrator is John Singer Sargent, a friend of Lee from her childhood.
It is an important work to consider Lee’s on time and ‘genius loci.’
Dennis Denisoff reads this work by connecting it with the economy at that time: this short story can be interpreted with reference to the developing capitalist economy and the advent of mass production and mass consumption and to overcoming of time through art. The former is the symbol of masculinity and William Oke embodies it and the latter is the symbol of femininity and Alice embodies it. (Dennis Denisoff, ’Vernon Lee: Decadent Contamination and the Productivist ethos' in Catherine Maxwell ed. Vernon Lee: Decadence, Ethics, Aesthetics.)
It is included in Hauntings. It is a story of Venus who revives in the 19th century Italy. It is a story of femme fatale and at the same time a story of "gods in exile." Plus, it can be interpreted as a story of artists’ failure.
A girl with excellent beauty is found on the shore of a small village in Italy in 1880s. The name is Dionea, which is remindful of Dione, a mother of Venus, is entrusted to a nunnery. Before long, various “diseases of love” begin to spread among the villagers. However, the love is the love of misfortune and many couples meet with tragedy. On the other hand, Valdemar, a sculptor, begins to make a sculpture of Dionea on the advice of Gertrude, his wife. Valdemar is unable to transcend the beauty of Dionea by his work, so he kills Gertrude as a sacrifice and kills himself.
It is an epistolary novel told by a doctor of the village.
- 'Prince Alberic and Snake Lady'
It is a fantastic story included in Pope Jacynth(1904). It was at first published on The Yellow Book. This magazine had close relationship with Oscar Wilde, so some critic points out the similarity between this story with Oscar Wilde’s works. In both stories, female characters are crashed to death at the last scene. When it comes to the story of snake, some point out the similarity to E・T・A・Hoffmann’s Der golden Topf.
It is a story of prince who loves Snake Lady depicted on a tapestry. In 1870, Lee sent a short story with the title of 'Capo Serpente' to a publishing house, but it was rejected. ‘Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady’ is based on this short story. The relationship of Lee with her mother, or her lesbianistic nature can be read in it. Burdett Gardner’s Lesbian Imagination: A Psychological and Critical Study of ‘Vernon Lee'. （'New York: Garland, 1987） is an excellent study of this work.
Sondeep Kandola examines the relationship between Oscar Wilde and this short story in ‘Vernon Lee and ‘High Art’’ in Vernon Lee. Kandola writes: "to her (Vernon Lee) the Wildean aesthete's love of art and artifice over Nature represents a juvenile state of mind."(P.35.)
- 'Sister Benvenuta and the Christ Child'
A fantastic story published in 1906. It takes the form of a dairy of Sister Benvenuta. In the preface, it is told that Sister Benvenuta is a saint to defend children. She lives in a nunnery and is said to be a bit half-witted. She loves the Bambino (statue of the Christ Child) in the sacristy and makes conversations with it in her diary. One day, a puppet play in which a devil appears is played at the nunnery. It is a play of Judith beheading Holofernes.
A doll of Mephistopheles appears before the heroine. It tells her and makes a pact with her. However, what the pact is is not made evident and the last scene is told by a sister, a cousin of the heroine. Sister Benvenuta is dead holding the doll of Child Christ in her room filled with light and she has a blissful expression. A doll of Mephistopheles is found in the room.
This short story is important considering Vernon Lee’s lesbianistic nature, love for her mother, love for dolls, and interest in marionette.
In 'Christkindchen' in Juvenilia, Lee wrote: "I have a sneaking belief in it still, that Baby Christ, Christkindchen as I was taught to call it by my German nurses, who brings presents to good little children."(P.179.) Lee had an experience in childhood that she looked for Christkindchen in her house on Christmas and instead of it found Death. She had nurtured fantasy of Baby Christ and Death, which was the base of this short story.
Patricia Pulham uses Freud’s research of the case of Dora and Eva Kuryluk’s Veronica and Her Cloth. (Patricia Pulham, Art and the Transitional Object in Vernon Lee's Supernatural Tales, PP.88~92.)
- 'Pope Jacynth'
It is included in a collection of fantastic stories Pope Jacynth and Other Fantastic Tales published in 1905. The word Jacynth means hyacinth and is derived from Greek myth. Hyacinth, a boy with extreme beauty, is loved by Apollo, but is killed by a saucer thrown by Apollo. A hyacinth grows and bears its flower from his blood.
God and Devil make a bet on whether Hyacinth gives away to temptation, and the idea comes from the Job of the Old Testament. While Job is given various kinds of sufferings, Hyacinth is given various pleasures, so this story is a parody of Job. The soul of Hyacinth changes into diamond at last. Click here to read the Japanese-translated version.
- 'St. Eudaemon and his Orange Tree'
A fantastic story included in Pope Jacynth（1904）.
A statue of Venus is exhumed from underground. Eudaemon puts an engaged ring into one of the fingers, and the finger bends and the ring cannot be put away. Eudaemon persuades the statue to unfold the finger, and it follows his advice and he succeeds in taking the ring off. The statue of Venus changes into a tree of orange.
This short story is the mixture of the legends of Christian saints, the legend of “the ring of Venus,” and the legends of metamorphosis in Greek myth and it is a kind of the story of Pygmalion.
There are some works written based on the legend of Venus’ ring and among them, Prosper Mérimée’s ‘La Venus d'Ille’( 1837) is famous, and Vernon Lee got hints from it. Henry James, who translated ‘La Venus d'Ille’ into English to improve his ability of French, wrote 'The Last of the Valerii'(1874) based on the legend.
In The Tower of the Mirrors, a travelogue, Lee wrote on a garden named Oranienbaum: "Oranienbaum, "Orange-tree,"is a dear little palace, not belying the sweet and scented primness of its name, although that is derived from a princess of Nassau-Orange, who intermarried with these princes of Dessau."
- 'The Doll'
A story included in For Maurice. It is one of the shortest story among Lee’s works. It was first published under the title of ‘The Image’ on Cornhill Magazine in 1896. It is a kind of ‘Pygmalion’ story.
It is a story of a woman whose husband made a doll modelled on her after her death. A narrator, a woman, knows how she lived and feels sympathy for her, and releases her from her husband’s bondage by burning the doll. The doll is compared to the sculptures by Antonio Canova, an Italian sculptor of neo-classicism.
Vernon Lee’s sense of marriage can be found in the story. Susan Navarette examines it in The Shape of Fear: Horror and the Fin de Siècle Culture of Decadence.
- 'The Virgin of the Seven Daggers'
It was serialized on a French journal Journal des debats politiques et litteraires from February 8 to 14, 1896, under the title of "La Madone aux Sept Glaives." In 1909年、the English version appeared on January and February issues of The English Review. Then, it was included in For Maurice published in 1927.
It is a typical Vernon Lee’s story in that the image of the Virgin Mary appears, but the story is set in Spain, which is rare for Lee’s works. It is a story of Don Juan in Garanada, Spain. Vernon Lee didn’t like Spain and this short story is useful in considering Lee’s opinion on Spain. In the preface to For Maurice, Lee wrote: "I dare say I may have cultivated animosity against that great Spanish art of the Catholic revival, have lacked appreciation of its technical innovations and psychological depth."
In an essay ‘Don Juan’ in Juvenilia, Lee told the stories of 'minor Don Juan' or Don Fransisco Velasco in Granadam, which she heard since her childhood. This Velasco influenced her in writing this story.
In this essay, she told about Don Juan: "Don Juan is merely the ideal representative of those things which the world still admires, but religion already condemns. He symbolizes the melancholy truth that when authorised morality has already long determined that some deeds ought not to be committed, the world still allows them, nay applauds if they are committed gallantly, with aristocratic bravery, art, and indolence."
Don Juan experienced all pleasures and invoked the spirit of the Queen of the Moors by means of black magic. However, he was asked which is more beautiful, the Queen or the Virgin of the Seven daggers, and he answered the Virgin. He was beheaded by her and killed.
Yoshio Nakano, who translated this short story into Japanese, points out that Baudelaire’s poem ‘à une Madonna’ influenced it. Sondeep Kandola points out that this short story is a forerunner of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant's Woman. (Sondeep Kandola, Vernon Lee, P.60.)
- 'Marsyas in Flanders'
It is included in For Maurice.
A crucifixion image which was washed ashore is regarded as an image of Christ andset in church. Howeverm it was fallen from the wall many times The image was that of Marsyas of Greek myth. Marsyas is a satyr and a good player of fife. He vies with Apollo in playing the fife and the harp. He is ordered to play the instrument upside down, but he couldn’t play it in that way. Apollo, a player of the harp, could play it upside down. Marsyas is lost to Apollo, and is skinned.
It is a kind of the story of 'gods in exile' and Lee got the hint from Heine’s Gods in Exile. The statue of Marsyas is driven a stake and this remids of a vampire story.
In the preface, Lee wrote that she got the idea of the story from Lucca’s legend of holy face. This is the image of crucifixion in the cathedral of San Martino.
- 'The Lady and Death'
It is included in a collection of fantastic stories Pope Jacynth in 1905. The subtitle is 'A Companion-Piece to Dürer's Print.' It was written under the influence of Dürer's Print of Death. Other than that, it is based on the legend of Faust, and that of Orpheus and Euripides’ tragedy Alcestis is one of the origins.
The outer frame of the story is a conversation between two men in the 19th century. The inner story told in the conversation is a ballad telling an event that happened in a small village in Germany in the 16th century. It is a story of Berchthold, a doctor or scientist, and his wife, Agnes. When a plague attacked the village, Berchthold saved the villagers by making contract with the devil, sacrificing his own life. However, his self-sacrificing behaviour was not understood by the villagers and they became to avoid him. In place of Berchthold, Agne was taken away by the devil to the hell. But Theodolus, a guardian saint of the Webers was saved.
It expresses Lee’s idea of marriage, and gender roles.
- 'Winthrop's Adventure'
It is a fantastic story included in For Maurice. The theme is the influence of music on people and it has the same theme as ‘A Wicked Voice.’
In the preface, Lee told that she got the hint by watching the portrait of Farinelli, a castrato in the 17th century Italy.
Winthrop, a painter, is heavily shocked to hear a song that he heard for the first time, and tells his own experience. When Winthrop visited the palace of Fa Diesis, he sees the portrait of Ferdinando Rinaldi, a singer who is killed 90 years ago. Winthrop has an impression: "The man was apparently singing, or rather about to sing, for the red, well-cut lips were parted; and in his hand―a beautiful plump, white, blue-veined hand, strangely out of keeping with the brown, irregular face―he held an open roll of notes." One night, Winthrop visits the ruin of the villa where Rinaldi was killed and meets his ghost, and hear him singing.
- Miss Brown
A novel published by William Blackwood in 1884. A large amount of money was paidtoLee. It is her representative novel. It was written under the influence of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.
Anne Brown is an innocent woman with little life experience. Walter Hamlin, a poet and painter, who reminds readers of Dante Gabriel Rossettii, supports her and gives her education, for example, making her go to school, in order to make her an ideal partner of marriage with him. It is a type of Pygmalion legend. At first, she is blindly attracted to Hamlin and grows thanks to the education given by him, resulting in the recognition that she finds Hamlin is an egoistic person. The growth of Anne is symbolized by colours: at first, white, which is symbolic of her innocence, is emphasized, but as she grows, brown is emphasized. Nevertheless, Anne decides to get married with Hamlin.
Vineta Colby and other scholars point out that Anne Brown is a woman reflecting the ideal image of Vernon Lee for Violet Paget.
Lee dedicated it to Henry James, but he criticized it severely, which led to the estrangement among them. This novel is a kind of roman a clef and Henry James and some others are considered to be models for some characters in it. Walter Hamlin is based on Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, and Anne Brown James Morris, wife of William Morris. She had affairs with Rossetti and William and Jane never forgave Lee. This novel resulted in making many enemies for Lee.
Laurel Brake compares Miss Brown and Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady and asserts that "the second half of Miss Brown" is "an alternative 'Portrait of a Lady.'”
- 'Lady Tal'
It is included in a collection of short stories Vanitas: Polite Stories published in 1892. Lady Atalanta Walkenshaw, who wants to be a novelist and is alos known as Lady Tal, admires a master of novel, Jervase Marion, who is based on Henry James. Vernon lee and Lady Tal have a lot in common: both of them have an invalid elder brother with different mothers. However, Lady Tal is a widower. Peter Gunn points out that the original of Lady Tal is one of Lee’s friends, Mrs. Alice Callander. Lady Tal completes Christina with the help of Marion, and tries to dedicate it to him, just like Lee did the same to Henry James, but Marion doesn’t evaluate it. In contrast, Marion observes Lady Tal’s state of mind with the eyes of anatomists and uses it as materials for his novels.
Lady Tal has a male-like appearance and the novel she wrote is the story of a woman oppressed by a man. These are common in both Lady Tal and Vernon Lee herself.
It is a story which incorporated the relationship between Vernon Lee and Henry James and the episode of Miss Brown and Vineta Colby asserts that the characters and the plot is similar to novels by Henry James. This novel made Lee and James estranged. Henry James was annoyed by this novel and called Lee "irrepressible Vernon Lee." Christa Zorn wrote: "With 'Lady Tal" Lee fell out of favor not because she had failed to write like James, but because she had written all too James-like." Sondeep Kandola wrote: "Lady Tal's novel also functions as a device which allows Lee to participate in a tropical fin-de-siècle debate about the kinds of pressures that artists faced from the literary marketplace.", and "In 'Lady Tal,' the 'artist' and 'tradesmen' debate is turned into a comic farce as Lee's two protagonists play out the Darwinian struggle between the artist (Marion) and the tradesmen (Lady Tal) as slapstick." (Kandola, Vernon Lee, P.52.)
- 'The Worldly Woman'
It is included in Vinitas: Polite Stories published in 1892. Like 'Lady Tal', it reminds readers of the works of Henry James. Among them, it is similar to James’ novel, Princess Casamassima. They are similar in plots: ‘Lady Tal’ is the story of the heroine and a male potter, Leonardo Greenleaf. The main themes are male desire to possess things and women’s marriage. The heroine, Val Flodden, decides to sell her collection of pottery for economic reason and asks Greenleaf for advice. By degrees, the differences between the heroine and the potter on marriage become clear and they meet again a few years later, Val has got already married and have a child. Val tells Greenleaf on marriage: "a woman's one business in life is to marry, to make a good marriage, to marry into this set, a man like my husband....I had made up my mind that although this was undoubtedly the natural and virtuous course, I would not follow it, that I would rather earn my living or starve."
According to Mario Praz, Vernon Lee had a negative idea toward possessing things and had a frosty stare at the contemporary collecting mania. One of the themes of this short story is the meaning of collecting things.
Vineta Colby points out that the model of Val is Kit-Anstruther-Thomson, one of Lee’s friend.
- 'The Legend of Madame Krasinska'
It is included in "Vanitas: Polite Stories" published in 1892. Unlike 'Lady Tal' and 'The Worldly Woman' in the same book, it is a fantastic story.
Madame Krasnska sees the sketch made by a woman who committed suicide and is obsessed by the woman’s spirit. As Lee’s other fantastic stories, a picture plays an important role in the story.
- 'The Featureless Wisdom'
It is included in a collection short stories 'Pope Jacynth. It is a very short story.
Diotima, a master of Socrates, requires Pheidias, a sculptor, to create a statue of Athena, a goddess of wisdom. Pheidias has a lot of trouble to making a statue which satisfies Diotima and finally he creates a statue without “featureless” statue of the goddess. Art or beauty is superficial, and they cannot express inner elements of humans such as wisdom or passion: in other words, beauty and wisdom are mutually exclusive. It is interesting to compare this short story with Lee’s essay 'A Child in the Vatican.'
- The Handling of Words and Other Studies in Literary Psychology
A collection of essays published in 1906. Peter Gunn called it "a most valuable book"among her works.
It consists of ‘On Literary Construction,’ ‘On Style,’ ‘Aesthetics of the Novel,’ ‘The Nature of the Writer,’ ‘Studies in Literary Psychology,’ ‘ The Handing of Words,’ ‘Imagination Penetrative,’ ‘Can Writing Can Be taught,’ ‘What Writers Might Learn,’ and ‘Conclusion.’ It is a book examining psychologically literature or style. Thomas De Quincey, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Ruskin, Rudyard Kipling and other writers are examined.
In ‘On Literary Construction,’ Lee argues the structure of novels by Robert Louis Stevenson, George Eliot and others. She classifies novels into two categories: one is synthetic novelists and analytic novelists and the the other is sensuous novelists and rational novelists. Synthetic novelists are ones who live a life as if they themselves have made the lives and can change points of view freely. Tolstoy is a synthetic novelist. Analytic novelists are one who examine minutely the people of their own making and see them only from his own viewpoint. George Eliot, Balzac, Flaubert and Zola are analytic novelists.
‘On Style’, Lee asserts that writing is the art of emotion and writes: “Style in this sense means, not a method of presenting the Writer’s ideas to the Reader, but the quality of the Writer’s ideas, and the manner in which they present themselves to the Writer.” Furthermore, she adds: “the words which are the Writer’s materials for expression are but the symbol of the ideas already existing in the mind of the Reader; and that, in reality, the Reader’s mind is the Writer’s palette.” Plus, she argues the how to use the adjectives.
In ‘The Nature of the Writer,’ Lee writes that all art depends on the fact that our human beings are animals of experiences and retrospection, emphasizing the importance of memory in literature. Furthermore, only the art of words has the ability to enlarge human’s moral and intellectual life. A great writer is a great philosopher of life and, therefore, great writers such as Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Browning are great philosophers of life. In contrast, aesthetes such as Baudelaire, Gautier, Swinburne and D'Annunzio ignore life and as a result, their poems are fruitless.
Vernon Lee introduced the idea of empathy from German psychology to England and emphasized the importance of empathy in appreciating the works of art. She applied the mechanism of empathy to the works of literature. Appreciating art is interactive: those who appreciate literary works reflect their emotions invoked by them on them.
The first example in the item of “empathy” in Oxford English Dictionary is cited from the work of Vernon Lee.
- The Satan the Waster: A Philosophic War Trilogy
It was published in 1920. It expresses Vernon Lee’s view of wars after she saw the World WarⅡ. It consists of 'Introduction', 'PartⅠ Prologue in Hell', 'PartⅡ The Ballet of the Nations', 'PartⅢ Epilogue'、’Notes on the Prologue', and 'Notes on the Ballet of the Nations.' ‘Notes’ is longer than the text. It is not necessarily made for stage.
In 'Introduction,' Lee wrote: 'A European war was going on which, from my point of view, was all about nothing at all; gigantically cruel, but at the same time needless and senseless like some ghastly "Grand Guignol" performance. It could, as it seemed to me, have been planned and staged only by the legendary Power of Evil" and emphasized the stupidity of war.
’Prologue’is set in hell. It consists of the dialogue between Satan and The Muse. In the Notes to 'Prologue,' Lee makes clear the reason why she chooses Satan as her spokesman, as follows: "Satan, my dear brethren, dwelleth within the innermost heart (or shall we say belly or brain?) of every nation." According to Lee, Satan means "infliction of useless loss and pain." In contrast, she tells the reason she doesn’t refer to God.
There is a passage on the relationships between industrialization and human beings and between wars and human beings: "As was already reiterated by Ruskin and Morris, the streets and factories of our cities, and the desecrated landscape surrounding them, are an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual disgrace. Not a symbol merely, but a specimen and a proof, of the paralysis of will and judgment now exhibiting its acute and paroxysmal phase in the material and mental happenings of this war."
In 'Notes to the Ballet,' Lee tells on abstract ideas such as 'hatred','heroism','intolerance', 'indignation.'
Lee describes negatively those who act on their "passion" in other works, and in this drama she writes: "Evil passions have inevitably awakened in war." Moreover, she writes: "Similarly do passion's optics blind us to Reality's essential characteristic: Reality's continual, inevitable change." Combining passion with patriotism, she asserts: "Patriotism is not a passion, but a combination of all the Passions." As for herself, she writes: "I have no Patriotism, and might have added, am just as happy without it."
On altruism, she writes: "Altruism not implying the sacrifice of our own wishes (which oftenest sacrifice our less dominant to our more dominant one among themselves) for the alleged benefit of an altar; but altruismwhich takes into consideration that nature, apparent or conceivable, of that altar, and the feelings he is likely to have as well as, and perhaps in opposition to, the feelings we have about him. To all such Altruism as this war puts a stop; because war implies struggle, and struggle passion, and passion delusion."
Peter Gunn, a biographer of Lee, praises this drama saying "Satan the Waster is one of the most cogent, moving, powerful denunciations of war ever written." （Peter Gunn, Vernon Lee, P.208.）
This drama caused both positive and negative reactions. Time Literary Supplement (24 June 1920) wrote on this drama: "It is merely an expression of her (Lee's) opinion in a very artificial form...an unconvincing fable."（Colby, Vernon Lee, P.306.）
Vineta Colby writes: "Lee's anti-war works anticipate the avant-garde modernist strategies of Dada and expressionist theatre" and points out Lee’s influence on anti-war literature of the following generations.
- Music and Its Lovers-An Empirical Study of Emotional and Imaginative Responses to Music
It was published in 1932. It consists of PartⅠ "Listeners" and "Hearers", PartⅡ Emotional Responses, PartⅢ Imaginative Responses, PartⅣ Has Music a "Meaning"?, PartⅤ The Composer's Phenomenon, PartⅥ How Music Comes into Lives, PartⅦ "De Gustibus..., and PartⅧ "Beyond Good and Evil. It main purpose is to examine music psychologically, classifying the act of listening into 'listening' and 'hearing.' Lee writes: "there are two sorts of musical attention: the active and steadily absorbed, intermittences of which are recognised as such; and, on the other hand, the fluctuating kind, which is not aware of fluctuations because they are habitual."
Lee calls emotions and memories invoked by music “ghost,” which give hints in considering her ghost stories. For example, there is a passage: "music and human emotions have a common Ancestor: an ancestor who is also, let me add, a descendant of many other common ancestors, namely what Sir H.Head has taught me to call a Schema, which is Greek and German for ghost or spectre; and once more, let me repeat, is the infinitive of a verb without present, past or future, without an "I" or a "we" or an "it" or a "they". From this quotation, Lee’s theory of empathy is closely related to music. Lee’s psychology was derived from psychology in Germany, especially that of Theodore Lipps.
- 'The Economic Parasitism of Women'
An essay in The Gospels of Anarchy (1908). It is an important work in considering Lee as a feminist. It was written under the influence of Charlotte Perkins (Stetson) Gilman’s（1860~1935） Women and Economics.
Lee criticized the situation where women are economically depedent on men and are forced to stay home. She remarks raising children, which is traditionally thought to be the obligation of women, should be done in community. Socially forced roles of women restrict women’s possibility. Women are asked to be excessively feminine （Women are oversexed）, and their roles are restricted to wife or mother. To change this situation, society must change and laws must also change. With the appearance of independent women, “effeminate” men also appear and the difference between sexes becomes ambiguous. Vernon Lee hopes the adevent of society where there is little difference between sexes comes.
- The Beautiful: An Introduction to Psychological Aesthetics
A collection of essays on aesthetics published in 1913. It consists of 'Preface and Apology,' 'The Adjective "Beautiful," 'Contemplative Satisfaction,' 'Aspects Versus Things,' 'Sensations,' 'Perception of Relations,' 'Elements of Shape,' 'Facility and Difficulty of Grasping,' 'Subject and Object,' 'Empathy,' 'The Movements of Lines,' 'The Character of Shapes,' 'From the Shape to the Thing,' 'From the Thing to the Shape,' 'The Aims of Art,' 'Attention to Shapes,' 'Information about Things,' 'Co-operation of Things & Shapes,' 'Aesthetic Responsiveness,' 'The Storage of Emotion,' 'Aesthetic Irradiation,' and 'Conclusion (Evolution)'.
At the beginning, Lee defines the word 'beautiful' as "an attitude of contemplative satisfaction" and comparing it with the word 'good.' And she writes: "What we contemplate as beautiful is an Aspect of a Thing, but never a Thing itself." She asserts that nothing is essentially beautiful and whether things are beautiful or not depends on how people see them.
Besides, she asserts that people are passive to color and sound, and warns that they have the power to invoke people’s animal spirits. These are interesting in considering Vernon Lee’s theory in color and her antipathy against the music of Wagner. ("colours, taken singly and apart from their juxtaposition, should possess so extraordinary a power over what used to be called our animal spirits, and through them over our minds. P.22.)
There is a description on 'shape,' one of the important keywords for Vernon Lee’s theory of beauty: "visible and audible Shape is composed of alternations between active, that is moving, measuring, referring, comparing, attention; and passive, that is comparatively sluggish reception of mere sensation."
As for the perception of lines, she asserts that seeing a line, one forecasts the line in future, depending on memory of the line of the past. Such interrelationship among the past, the present, and the future creates meaning and shape.
As for memory, she wrote: "Now memory, paradoxical as it may sound, practically implies expectation: the use of the past, to so speak, is to become that visionary thing we call the future. "
As for the relationship between lines and music, she wrote: "patterns of visible lines will possess all the chief dynamic modes which determine the expressiveness of music."
Chapter 9 'Empathy ' is an important chapter to understand Lee’ literature. Taking the expression 'The mountain rises,' Lee explains the concept of empathy. Empathy is an act where the present information delivered from outside invokes similar experiences stocked in spectators’ mind, which leads to the future. In Chapter 14 'The Aims of Art,' she examines the three-dimensional expression in pictures. In Chapter 16 'Information about Things,' she asserts on three-dimensional expression that it is an expression for locomotion, and in two-dimensional expression of pictures locomotion is asked for by way of describing plural parts from a sole perspective. These theories of Lee’s are similar to those of Cubism in the 20th century. In Chapter 18, 'Aesthetic Responsiveness,' she asserts that art can exist for the first time when there is a cooperation of spectators. She writes: "The spontaneous collaboration of the beholder is especially indispensable for Aesthetic Empathy."
- Beauty and Ugliness: And Other Studies in Psychological Aesthetics
A collection of essays on aesthetics published in 1911. A friend of Lee, C. Anstruther-Thomson is a coworker. It consists of 'Anthropomorphic Aesthetics','Aesthetic Empathy and Its Organic Accompaniments','The Central Problem of Aesthetics','Beauty and Ugliness','Aesthetic Responsiveness, Its Variations and Accompaniments', and 'Conclusion.' It is a book to examine the problems of aesthetics psychologically and “empathy” is one of the key words. This book led to the lawsuit with Bernerd Berenson.
In 'Anthropomorphic Aesthetics,' she supports the theory of German psychologist Groos (the aesthetic condition is, on the contrary, the outcome of nearly all healthfully constant and repeated acts attention) while criticizing the aesthetics of Schiller. And she furthermore says: 'And the quality answering to this aesthetic desire is what we call Beauty; the quality which it avoids or diminishes is Ugliness.'
- Ariadne in Mantua: A Romance in Five Acts
A drama in prose of five acts. The heroine, Magdalen, who is disguised as a man, tries to cure Duke of Mantua, who is sick in bed, by the power of song, but kills herself by diving into a lake. Vernon Lee visited Mantua twice in 1896 and 1898. There she saw three beautiful lakes, and Palazzo Ducale of Gonzaga, which inspired Lee much.
The story was under the influence of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Diego, a female in man’s dress, was modelled after Viola.
Like in ‘The Wicked Voice,’ voice with healing power was inspired by Farinelli. The heroine suffers from unrequited love, which reminds readers of Lee herself. It is important in considering Lee’s idea on gender and music. Peter Gunn asserts that both Diego (Madgalen) and Ferdinand are neutral in sex and their relationship transcends sexual bond rather than rejects it. （Peter Gunn, Vernon Lee, P.178.）
Though this drama was written not for stage but for being read, it was performed at Gaiety Theatre in May 1916 by Countess Lytton. In 1934, it was performed on Accademia dei findeti and Vernon Lee saw the performance.
In Genius Lociの'The Lakes of Mantua,' Lee writes the impression she had when she visited Mantua. "It was the Lakes, the deliciousness of water and sedge seen from the railway on a blazing June day, that made me stop at Mantua for the first time; and the thought of them that drew me back to Mantua this summer. They surround the city on three sides, being formed by the Mincio on its way from Lake Garda to the Po, shallow lakes split on the great Lombard plain."(P.163.)
Lee’s autograph manuscript of this drama is possessed at Casa Cini, a library.