Grown-up toys : aesthetic forms and transitional objects in Vernon Lee's supernatural tales
This thesis examines the fantastic tales of the marginalized writer Vernon Lee (Violet Paget 1856-1935), focusing on such confections as Hauntings: Fantastic Stories (1890), Pope Jacynth and Other Fantastic Stories (1904), and For Maurice: Five Unlikely Stories (1927). It traces the influence of European Romantics such as Hoffmann and Heine on her writings and juxtaposes Lee's work with that of fin-de-siecle contemporaries such as Walter Pater, Henry James, and Oscar Wilde. Her stories often depend on the supernatural properties of art objects for their uncanny effect, and this study traces the contradiction between Lee's concern with form in her aesthetic treatises, and the 'formless' and metamorphic qualities of the 'ghostly' objects that come to fife in her works. The resultant conflict is explored in the context of D. W. Winnicott's 'transitional object' theory which suggests that a child's subjectivity is formed in a 'potential space', a space existing in a developmental 'limbo' in which the child plays with items or toys while negotiating its separation from the mother, and recognizing its individuality. According to Winnicott, in adulthood, this childhood process is re-experienced in the illusory realm of art and cultural objects. With this premise in mind, this thesis argues that, in Lee's tales, the supernatural functions as a 'potential space" in which Lee 'plays' with the art object or 'toy' in order to explore alternative subjectivities that allow the expression of her lesbian subjectivity. Using an interdisciplinary approach which combines literature with psychology, aesthetics, mythology, religion, and social history, this thesis demonstrates the contemporary validity of Lee's tales, and its importance for the study of gender and sexuality in the nineteenth-century fin de siecle.