Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Lee, Vernon

Working name of Violet Paget (1856-1935), born in France of UK parents, half-sister of Eugene Lee-Hamilton; she spent much of her life in Italy, where almost all her best fiction is set. Through Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy (1880) she laid claim (though only 24 when it reached print) to a land and a period that constituted, for her, a lost Arcadia. Two chapters in particular – "The Comedy of Masks" (> Commedia dell'Arte; Masks) and "Carlo Gozzi and the Venetian Fairy Comedy" (> Carlo Gozzi) – retain a vivid relevance. She was a writer of stubborn intellect and obsessive concern.

VL is of most interest as an author of Supernatural Fiction. Her first book, Tuscan Fairy Tales (Taken Down from the Mouths of the People) (coll 1880), belies its parenthetical caveat through the somewhat selfconscious literary polish imparted to the Fairytales it assembles. After the negligible The Prince of the Hundred Soups (1883) came her first important supernatural fiction: A Phantom Lover: A Fantastic Story (1886 chap) – set, oddly enough, in England. Along with the later "The Turn of the Screw" (1898) by her friend Henry James, A Phantom Lover fits remarkably well into Tsetvan Todorov's definition of the Fantastic. A painter becomes obsessed with the similarity (almost certainly a matter of his own Perception) between the woman he is painting and her ancestor, who was involved in a family tragedy. By the end of the tale, he has generated an uncanny further tragedy.

In contrast, the supernatural fictions in VL's finest single volume, Hauntings: Fantastic Stories (coll 1890), do not hover on that Todorovan cusp, and almost invariably treat the urge to transcendence as transgressive; she is a deeply punitive writer. In "Amour Dure: Passages from the Diary of Spiridion Trepka", the protagonist is haunted by the Ghost of a Renaissance Femme Fatale; his reward for obeying her commands is death. The eponymous Avatar of a pagan goddess in "Dionea" burns away the dross of an equivocating mortal marriage merely by allowing the couple sight of her. VL's equivocal sense of the arts – they allure, but in so doing arouse an amoral desperation for bliss – governs "A Wicked Voice", in which heart-rendingly beautiful music is sung by a ghost castrato from the 18th century. The best story in Pope Jacynth, and Other Fantastic Tales: Excursions into Fantasy (coll 1904) is "Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady", in which young Prince Alberic is haunted by an ancient tapestry which depicts an ancestor embracing a Lamia in a Landscape which evokes the genius loci of antique Italy. Exiled to a ruined castle, the prince soon finds himself threading the landscape – "as though the tapestry had become the whole world" – until he arrives at a deep well, in the bright water of which an underworld sky glows; in this Mirror he sees the Lamia. They wed.

The tales assembled in For Maurice: Five Unlikely Stories (coll 1927), written long before, are lesser, though "The Virgin with the Seven Daggers", a Posthumous Fantasy featuring Don Giovanni (> Don Juan), is of interest. Later work includes The Ballet of the Nations: A Present-Day Morality (1915; exp vt Satan the Waster: A Philosophic War Trilogy with Notes & Introduction 1920; rev 1930), an Allegory excoriating warfare. VL spent her last years on works of aesthetics. [JC]

other works:

Fiction: Vanitas: Polite Stories (coll 1892), contains one supernatural tale; Ariadne in Mantua (1903 chap), play; Sister Benvenuta and the Christ Child: An Eighteenth Century Legend (1906 chap); Louis Norbert: A Two-Fold Romance (1914), whose obscure plot contains implications of Timeslip.

Posthumous compilations (selective): The Snake Lady, and Other Stories (coll 1954 US: rev vt Supernatural Tales: Excursions into Fantasy 1955 UK; vt The Virgin of the Seven Daggers 1962 UK); Pope Jacynth, and More Supernatural Tales (coll 1956; with 1 story cut vt Ravenna and her Ghosts 1962).

Violet Paget

links

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.