Violet del Palmerino

Meeting Vernon Lee at Villa il Palmerino

Jane Fortune
September 27, 2012

Oscar 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.


A 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.


Painters 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.


Lectures 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 An unpublished film, featuring the famous hostess of Il Palmerino on her travels abroad (1926 and 1934), will also be shown during this event, which has venues at the British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.


Although 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.



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