Violet Paget, who used the nom de plume Vernon Lee, was one of the more prominent female figures in fin de siècle French literary life, and, perhaps, the only one who happened to live as a man. A childhood friend whom Sargent called his “most illustrious twin,” Lee was the person Henry James once described as “by faraway the most able mind in Florence.” Ironically, Lee held strong reservations about portraiture. In 1883, Lee wrote, “In truth, a portrait gives the sitter’s temperament merged in the temperament of the painter.” With that in mind, one notices quite a lot of Sargent himself in his picture of Lee.
Vernon Lee was the pseudonym of the British writer Violet Paget (14 October 1856 – 13 February 1935). She is remembered today primarily for her supernatural fiction and her work on aesthetics. An early follower of Walter Pater, she wrote over a dozen volumes of essays on art, music, and travel.
...During the First World War,Lee adopted strong pacifist views, and was a member of the anti-militarist organisation, the Union of Democratic Control. She was also a lesbian, and had long-term passionate friendships with three women, Mary Robinson, Clementina Anstruther-Thomson, and British author Amy Levy.
...She developed her own theory of psychological aesthetics in collaboration with her lover, Kit Anstruther-Thomson, based on previous works by William James, Theodor Lipps, and Karl Groos. She claimed that spectators "empathize" with works of art when they call up memories and associations and cause often unconscious bodily changes in posture and breathing.
...The English writer and translator Montague Summers described Vernon Lee as "the greatest [...] of modern exponents of the supernatural in fiction." E. F. Bleiler has claimed that "Lee's stories are really in a category by themselves. Intelligent, amusingly ironic, imaginative, original, they deserve more than the passing attention that they have attracted". Neil Barron described the contents of Lee's collection Hauntings thus "The stories are powerful and very striking, among the finest of their kind."