An openly lesbian, feminist writer, Vernon Lee—a pseudonym of Violet Paget—is the most important female aesthetician to come out of nineteenth century England.
Though she was widely known for her supernatural fictions, Lee hasn’t gained the recognition she so clearly deserves for her contributions in the fields of aesthetics, philosophy of empathy, and art criticism. An early follower of Walter Pater, her work is characterized by extreme attention to her own responses to artworks, and a level of psychological sensitivity rarely seen in any aesthetic writing. Today, she is largely overlooked in curriculums, her aesthetic works long out of print.
David Zwirner Books is reintroducing Lee’s writing through the first-ever English publication of "Psychology of an Art Writer" (1903) along with selections from her groundbreaking "Gallery Diaries" (1901–1904), breathtaking accounts of Lee’s own experiences with the great paintings and sculptures she traveled to see. Ranging from deeply felt assessments of the way mood affects our ability to appreciate art, to detailed descriptions of some of the most powerful personal experiences with artworks, these writings provide profound insights into the fields of psychology and aesthetics. Her philosophical inquiries in The Psychology of an Art Writer leave no stone unturned, combining fine-grained ekphrases with high fancy and dense abstraction. The diaries, in turn, establish Lee as one of the most sensitive writers about art in any language.
With a foreword by Berkeley classicist Dylan Kenny, which guides the reader through these writings and contextualizes these texts within Lee’s other work, this is the quintessential introduction to her astonishing and complex oeuvre.
"A recently published volume of Vernon Lee’s writing reveals a woman who is a product of privilege, as well as someone who used what it afforded her to resist the status quo."
– Alexis Clements, Hyperallergic
"What's striking about Lee's writing here is the openness and what one might almost describe as the nakedness with which she embraces the multiplying sensations and apprehensions that shape her experience."
– Jed Perl, New York Review of Books
"What a find. And what an important book for today. But then, what we are given is more subtle. Lee’s way of appreciating art, examining why you feel it but never questioning whether this feeling has value, begs to be read now."
– Staff, Elephant
"As dangerous and uncanny as she is intelligent, which is saying a great deal..."