Saturday, 25 April 2015

Vernon Lee at Kelmscott House

In July 1881 the aspiring writer Vernon Lee [Violet Paget] called on the Morrises at Kelmscott House, following an invitation from Janey whom she had met through Marie Spartali in Italy.   In her characteristically catty manner she reported on house and hosts:

'The room was furnished rather like an extremely dingy sacristy with faded bits of old Italian furniture. A thickset, shockhaired, bearded man, powerful, common, rather like a railway porter or bargee & not unlike a sort of grizzled Charles Grant, was introduced to me as Mr William Morris; but as he was very busy apparently making furniture with two other men I had no opportunity of talking with him. Mrs M. had on the usual crinkled white garb with a  gold sarong around her waist or absence of waist; more beautiful and grand perhaps than in Florence.  She was very lazy and friendly & asked me to call again.'  [Vernon Lee's Letters, ed. Irene Cooper Willis 1937 p.70]

However, on her next visit a year later, she declared that
'the house is beautiful ... homely, artistic & far from any aesthetic house. Mrs M took me into a sweet garden, flowers & vegetables, they have with charming peeps of old brick, ivied houses; & gave me two blue sweet peas, just like Morris papers.' ibid p.95]

Then in 1883 Vernon Lee published Miss Brown, a novel about a barely-disguised Jane Burden Morris, who was so distressed and angry that three years later Mary Robinson was told she could not take Vernon Lee  to a grand party because it would cause 'great pain to an old and valued friend.'  Lee commented: 'This is doubtless Mrs Morris who answers exactly to the description & who has spoken in that sort of way before.  I don't at all blame her: my only vexation is that I should have caused the poor woman, whose life is far from happy, so much annoyance.' [ibid, p.221]

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jan, thank you for an interesting article. I have been trying to get in touch with you about a book you wrote with Trevor Lummis: A Woman’s Domain. Women and the English Country House. By Trevor Lummis and Jan Marsh. London: Penguin, 1990

    I am currently undertaking some research on Rosalie Chichester of Arlington Court and really enjoyed reading your chapter on her. I would like to ask you a few questions about the sources you used and wonder if we could get in touch by email:
    looking forward to hearing from you,
    Wendy Patterson