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Queer Heroines. On the Construction of Gender in Vernon Lee's Renaissance Essays

  • Abstract

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Keywords: Vernon Lee; Gender Representation; Sexual Dissidence.

Scholars have often identified the connections between Vernon Lee's works and her complex sexuality. The protagonists of her supernatural tales have been the object of extensive study in that they eschew neat gender categorisation and repeatedly sublimate sexual drive into subjugation and murder. Lee's writings as an aesthetic critic, by comparison, have mostly been explored in connection with Water Pater's work. In this article I argue that in "Euphorion and Renaissance Fancies" and "Studies" Lee's allusions to Pater's thought shape not only her construction of gendered authorship, but also the textual representation of gender and sexuality. Characters like Héloïse and Nicolette endorse transgression and prove able to master stereotypical masculine functions, showing how gender roles are independent of sex. In addition, Lee's interest in Franciscanism and the Renaissance iconography of the Madonna provide a historical legitimisation of non-normativised forms of sexual desire, which should be viewed from a queer perspective.

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