Wilde, Aldous Huxley and Edith Wharton all came to visit her. Henry James and
Mario Praz frequented her salons. English writer Vernon Lee welcomed them all.
For 46 years, at her villa, Il Palmerino, Lee ‘held court’ for a vast network
of Anglo-American and Florentine writers, artists, scientists, politicians and
intellectuals who were attracted to her critical interpretations on Italian art
and her keen-minded conversations. One of the greatest modern exponents of
supernatural fiction, Lee established her reputation as a writer while in her
early 20s. She authored 40 books throughout the course of her life and carved
out a place for herself as an advocate of feminism and of social reform. She
was truly a woman ahead of her time.
lesbian and promoter of alternative lifestyles, Lee settled in the
fifteenth-century Villa Palmerino, near Fiesole, in 1889 and stayed until her
death in 1935. A talented harpsichord player, she organized theatrical recitals
and plays at the villa, which became known as a literary salon. She welcomed
such guests as Bernard and Mary Berenson (the latter was one of Lee’s closest
allies) and hosted other feminist writers, among them American novelists
Charlotte Perkins Stetson and Elisabeth Robins and English essayist and
humanist Walter Pater.
were also plentiful among Lee’s entourage of dedicated admirers, including the
likes of Telemaco Signorini and John Singer Sargent, who painted her portrait
in 1881 (now at the Tate in London). Florentine landscape painter Andre
Noufflard and his wife, French portraitist Berthe Langweil, were among Lee’s
greatest friends. Their daughter, Geneviève Noufflard, will be sharing personal
memories of the writer during the upcoming event, Violet del Palmerino: A
symposium, a multi-venue convening of a group of international Lee experts in
Florence on September 27 and 28, 2012.
are open to the public and will focus on such various themes as Anglo-American
artists who visited Il Palmerino and Vernon Lee’s letters, including
correspondence with British science-fiction writer H.G. Wells, German poet
Maria Waser and American novelist Edith Wharton. An unpublished film, featuring
the famous hostess of Il Palmerino on her travels abroad (1926 and 1934), will
also be shown during this event, which has venues at the British Institute, the
Institut Francais of Florence and Villa il Palmerino.
Lee bequeathed her library to the British Institute of Florence, where the
collection remains, it was Il Palmerino that laid claim to her soul. This
multifaceted woman loved the villa and its surrounding area with characteristic
passion. She was responsible for starting several initiatives to save Florence
from many city-sponsored plans to construct ill-designed buildings or demolish
historic palaces. As for the villa, Lee even designed plans for its plumbing
system herself! Today, the villa is home to a cultural association called Il
Palmerino, founded by current owner Federica Parietti (see TF 165). Dedicated
to honoring the spirit of Vernon Lee and that of the villa’s subsequent owner,
British artist and writer Carola Costa Angeli, the organization sponsors
seminars and research programs focused on artists.