Vernon Lee — 2003

Aesthetics, History, and the Victorian Female Intellectual

By Christa Zorn

The subject of renewed interest among literary and cultural scholars, Vernon Lee wrote more than forty books, in a broad range of genres, including fiction, history, aesthetics, and travel literature. Early on, Lee established her reputation as a public critic whose unconventional viewpoints stood out among those of her contemporaries.

To feminist and cultural critics, she is a fascinating model of the independent female intellectual who, as Desmond MacCarthy once put it, provides a rare combination of intellectual curiosity and imaginative sensibility.

A startlingly original critical study, Vernon Lee adds new dimensions to the legacy of this woman of letters whose career spans the transition from the late Victorian to the modernist period. Christa Zorn draws on archival materials to discuss Lee's work in terms of British aestheticism and in the context of the Western European history of ideas.

Christa Zorn contends that Lee's fiction and nonfiction represent a literary position that bridges and surpasses both the Victorian sage and the modernist aesthetic critic.

Through Professor Zorn's approach, which combines theoretical framings of texts in terms of recent feminist and cultural criticism with passages of close reading, Vernon Lee emerges as an influential figure in late-nineteenth-century British and continental European thinking on history, art, culture, and gender.


Picture of Christa Zorn

An associate professor of English at Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, Christa Zorn teaches nineteenth- and twentieth-century British literature, women's studies, and critical theory. She has written articles on Vernon Lee and Lou Andreas-Salomé.

Cover of 'Vernon Lee'

Reviews

  • The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, pp 112-116, Spring 2006
  • English Literature in Transition,, ELT 48, January 2005
  • Victorians Institute Journal, Vol. 33, 2005