by Melissa Pritchard
Bellevue Literary Press. 192 pages, $14.95
MELISSA PRITCHARD has opened the door to understanding a once famous British lesbian writer who, while she figures in contemporary scholarly lesbian–feminist journals, is not easy to track down in more popular works. Palmerino is a beautifully written and well-structured work, and after reading Vineta Colby’s 2003 biography titled Vernon Lee, I can say that Palmerino is based very closely on the life of Violet Paget (1856–1935), who published over forty works, the first of which was the well-received Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy (1880), written in her early twenties.
Violet Paget assumed the name Vernon Lee so as to be taken seriously as a writer in the late 19th century, but she used the names intermittently in both public and private contexts. She had several same-sex relationships throughout her life, of which one was with Mary Robinson, a published poet, and another with Clementina (“Kit”) Anstruther-Thomson, described as a “reckless, slangy girl.” Paget/Lee’s busy life was filled with travel, friendships, complex family dynamics, and a salon of female followers. One of the more notable members of her circle was the British poet Amy Levy (1861–1889), probably a lesbian, who took her own life after Paget/Lee refused her attentions.