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“Traces of the exotic” in Vernon Lee’s “Oke of
Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover”
Sally Blackburn-Daniels & Sophie Geoffroy
To cite this article: Sally Blackburn-Daniels & Sophie Geoffroy (2021) “Traces of the exotic” in
Vernon Lee’s “Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover”, Women's Writing, 28:4, 569-588, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09699082.2021.1985294
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Published online: 23 Dec 2021.
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“TRACES OF THE EXOTIC”IN VERNON LEE’S“OKE OF
OKEHURST; OR, THE PHANTOM LOVER”
and Sophie Geoﬀroy
Faculty of the Arts and Social Sciences, The Open University, Cheshire, UK;
Galante, Saint Gilles les Bains, France
Okehurst –the stately home in Vernon Lee’s“Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom
Lover”–is the epitome of English architecture, dating back to “Norman or
Saxon”times. Yet inside, the house is populated with far-ﬂung objects and
traces of the exotic: Persian rugs, majolica ornaments, and “rose-leaves and
spices put into china bowls.”The house and its contents are intoxicating, and
nothing is more exotic, perfumed, or exquisite than Alice, who with her
husband (and cousin) William Oke are the last members of the family’s line.
Okehurst also reverberates with the presences of its previous inhabitants
which drive the current Okes to repeat the family’s history of madness and
murder. The haunting of Okehurst is particularly interesting when considered
alongside material from Lee’s archive. This paper will consider the traces of
Lee’s own complex ancestry and the problems of empire and matrilineal
ancestral wealth and inheritance, whilst utilising correspondence from Lee to
her mother, and her partner, Mary Robinson to suggest the possible
inspiration for Cotes Common and Okehurst Manor. Throughout this
consideration of haunted spaces –both inside and outside –this paper will
also make reference to the 1886 manuscript of “Oke of Okehurst,”which has
never previously been studied.
KEYWORDS Vernon Lee; hauntology; intertextuality; colonialism; the fantastic; projection
Vernon Lee was the adopted name of Violet Paget (1856–1935), a writer
whose diverse literary legacy includes essays on art history and philosophical
aesthetics, open letters on vivisection, petitions against the demolition of the
historic centre of Florence, publications on women’s rights, as well as novels,
novellas and short story collections. She wrote (and was published) from the
age of fourteen, until the last years of her life, and could do so in four
languages. Her pseudonym was not merely that; she wrote privately and
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDer-
ivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distri-
bution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered,
transformed, or built upon in any way.
CONTACT Sally Blackburn-Daniels firstname.lastname@example.org
2021, VOL. 28, NO. 4, 569–588
publicly as Lee, and was known as this by friends and lovers. Lee’s most
recognised works (and those that are now subject to the most critical scru-
tiny) are her three collections of fantastic tales: Hauntings: Fantastic Tales
(1890), Pope Jacynth and Other Fantastic Tales (1907) and For Maurice:
Five Unlikely Stories (1927). It is this ﬁrst collection of stories, Hauntings
that we wish to examine here.
On 23 April 1890, The Pall Mall Gazette published a review of Vernon
Lee’sHauntings. It began:
In “Oke of Okehurst”(a masterly story in its way) there is absolutely nothing
supernatural. Oke’s“maniac frown”on which the narrator insists a little too
often, aﬀords a perfectly natural key to the whole deplorable episode […]
The thoroughly successful ghost-story, in short, must either be blood-curdling
fact or an unblushing ﬁction. When the hypothesis of morbid self-deception is
possible, the case may be appalling as an instance of mental disease, but it is
not a true ghost story.
The Pall Mall’s review suggested that Lee had failed to fulﬁlthe“contract”of
the title Hauntings, by failing to provide the “real”or true supernatural experi-
ence. The review continues that Lee’s work was tested under the most “ﬁtting
conditions”:Hauntings was read “at the witches’noon, by the light of a single
candle, in the lonely wing of a house two centuries old.”Despite the seemly
environment, “the longed-for shiver never came.”
By creating a tableau of
test conditions, the reviewer grandstands their knowledge of the traditions
of the supernatural as a genre: the haunted house, the noises that “startle
the still night,”the ﬁgures just out of sight, and, unfortunately for Lee, the
book is mauled for lack of these tropes. Oliver Tearle claims that Lee’s super-
natural stories “privilege subjective sensory experience and individual
impression”which he argues “breaks away from conventional Victorian
ﬁction –even the Victorian ghost story –and gestures towards new territory.”
Therefore, we contend that Lee’slackof“success”as a “supernatural artist”is
not because she has failed to recognise these conventions, or that she lacks the
writerly skill to conjure spectres, as she makes apparent in Hauntings’preface:
We were talking last evening –asthebluemoon-mistpouredinthroughtheold-
fashioned grated window, and mingled with our yellow lamplight at the table […]
‘tis the mystery that touches us, the vague shroud of moonbeams that hang about
the haunting lady […] scarcely outlined, scarcely separated from the surrounding
Here, as a precursor to the book,Lee provides her reader with a fully ren-
dered experience that evokes the essence of the supernatural, and the spec-
tral. Lee highlights her role as mere raconteur and ascribes the eﬀects of
her ghost story to its oral origins and to the active participation of the audi-
ence in building up the thrill experienced by the group of listeners. Lee’s
570 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY
Hence, my four little tales are of no genuine ghosts in the scientiﬁc sense; they
tell of no hauntings such as could be contributed by the Society for Psychical
Research […] I can aﬃrm only one thing, that they haunted certain brains, and
have haunted, among others, my own and my friends.
Lee suggests that her ghosts are spurious, not those to be studied by Frederic
W. H. Myers and Edmund Gurney’s Society for Psychical Research, which
was founded in 1882, eight years before the publication of Hauntings. The
society was the ﬁrst to empirically study psychic or paranormal events.
Tearle notes how Lee “gently satirizes the accounts of such ghostly sightings
recorded by SPR members […] and draws attention to the commonplace
banality of the ghosts that feature in such real-life accounts.”
was something Lee knew ﬁrst-hand. In a letter to her mother Matilda in
July 1885 Lee’s (private) critique is far from gentle. She writes that she and
Alice Callander went to a meeting of the SPR after Gurney sent her
tickets. Acerbically she notes “[i]t was a very dull business, consisting
mainly of avowals of failed experiments. Gurney looks weary and embittered.
The rest singularly water on the brain.”
A key text in Hauntings, and one pivotal for understanding Lee’s spurious
ghosts is “Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover.”In Lee’s dedication of
“Oke”to Peter Boutourline, Lee writes “any charm that story [‘Oke of Oke-
hurst; Or, The Phantom Lover’] may have,”might be “put down […] to the
way in which we had been working ourselves up, that ﬁrelight evening, with
all manner of fantastic stuﬀ.”
The dedication recalls Lee “telling [Boutour-
line], one afternoon that [he] sat upon the hearth-stool at Florence, the story
of Mrs Oke of Okehurst”, and his enthusiastic response to this winter’s tale of
Lee’s, and his encouragement to write it down:
You thought it a fantastic tale, you lover of fantastic things, and urged me to
write it out at once, although I protested that, in such matters, to write is to
exorcise, to dispel the charm; and that printer’s ink chases away the ghosts
that may pleasantly haunt us, as eﬃcaciously as gallons of holy water.
The ghosts of “Okehurst”present at Lee’s hearth in Florence were partly
induced by their discussion of the fantastic –which gave “Oke”its charm.
The reader is left wondering if this charm will be absent from their own
engagement with the tale as to write is to exorcise the story of its spirit.
Yet this notion did not dispel Lee’s writing of it, nor its publication.
Lee approached William Blackwood the publisher with “Oke”on 13 April
1886 for inclusion in his magazine.
Anthony Mandal notes that Blackwood
played a major role in nineteenth-century literary publication, with Black-
wood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1817–1980) “intimately associated”with
ghost stories gothic tales.
In a letter to her mother, Matilda, in June 1886
Lee expresses her surprise and delight that her pitch paid oﬀ:“[O]n returning
I [found] an astounding letter from Blackwood, oﬀering to publish Oke of
Okehurst as a shilling dreadful, which of course I shall accept.”
by return to Blackwood was more pragmatic, with a detailed expression of
I have always dearly wished to produce a shilling dreadful, little guessing that I
had produced one unconsciously. If you determine on the shilling dreadful;
which I think is the best plan, as my name may go some way, may I say that
I am quite pleased with the terms from a ﬁnancial point of view; but that I
should like the copyright to revert to me after some time, not from any
unseemly hope of money, but because I have two other tales –one the
Medea which you thought too historical –which I want at some distant
period to publish with Oke.
Lee’s desire to regain the copyright was by no means unusual. Mandal
suggests that this arrangement could secure the author an “initial lump
sum while beneﬁtting from the reversion of rights for later publication in
cheap or edited editions.”
That same year, Blackwood published “Oke”as A Phantom Lover: A Fan-
tastic Story, the second title the work was to be known by. Lee’s original title
“Oke of Okehurst”had the ﬁgure of Oke, and the house, Okehurst at the fore,
and revealed the interrelation between the space and its occupier. The 1886
publication focused upon a phantom lover –a paranormal paramour –and
was hugely successful: A delighted Lee wrote to her mother “[a]ll along the
line from Leeds here I saw my Phantom Lover on the bookstalls. I felt cele-
Four years later, after the reversion of the copyright to Lee, “Oke”
was collated with “Amour Dure”and “Dionea”and included in Hauntings,
Fantastic Tales (as we have seen).By now, the title had changed once
more to “Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover;”a bringing together
of the work’s previous identities.
“Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover”is narrated by an unnamed
artist as he reﬂects upon the tragic events at Okehurst, a stately home
owned by the last surviving members of the Oke family. The Okes had
lived in Okehurst since the sixteenth century, and had served in the court
of kings, and dedicated themselves to public service since. William and
Alice, descendants of the Okes –as well as cousins and spouses –desire to
have their portraits painted to hang in the great hall of Okehurst alongside
those of their ancestors. The artist narrator is commissioned to join
William and Alice at their home, and attempts his task. The artist soon
notes that present-day Alice bears a striking physical similarity with her
ancestress, Alice Oke, which delights present-day Alice. Yet it is not just a
physical resemblance, present-day Alice becomes a conduit for ancestral-
Alice’s feelings for a young poet, who was murdered out on the moorland
at Cotes Common by ancestral-Alice. Oliver Tearle suggests, “Mrs Oke’s
similarity to her seventeenth-century namesake, and her ‘romance’with
her namesake’s ghostly paramour, the Cavalier poet Lovelock, thwarts the
572 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY
narrator in his artistic task,”and the artist-narrator is unable to capture
present-day Alice’s likeness.
Present-day Alice’s infatuation with the mur-
dered poet resurrects Lovelock in the mind of William Oke, who “witnesses”
the poet’s spectral ﬁgure in the grounds of Okehurst. In an attempt to stop
Alice’s supposed extra-marital, supernatural aﬀair, William takes his
shotgun and aims at what he believes is the poet, but instead he hits Alice,
and kills her immediately. Consumed by despair and madness, he attempts
suicide, eventually dying days later.
The translation of “A Phantom Lover”into French in the daily newspaper
Le Matin: derniers télégrammes de la nuit, in nine instalments as “Le Feuil-
leton du Matin”(daily series) on 10 August and 11–20 October 1900 was
similarly titled: “L’Amoureux fantôme”. A century later, in 1990, Michel
Desforges’s translation of the story into French is entitled Alice Oke with
the cover bearing a photograph portrait of Julia Jackson by Julia Margaret
Cameron. Whilst the title and image is clearly feminine, it is distinctly sug-
gestive of melancholy, perhaps even madness, rather than the fantôme ﬁgure
the title has led the reader to expect.
This shift suggests a return to Lee’s
subtitle –A Fantastic Tale –and traction within literary circles of Tzvetan
Todorov’s theory of the fantastic. Todorov’sIntroduction à la littérature fan-
tastique (1970) is concerned with the space between psychological or super-
natural explanations for events, and the hesitation between this “is, or the is
In thinking about haunting as both meta-psychological and supernatural,
we require a methodological framework that is able to apply itself to mani-
festation of phantoms in both the internal space of the psyche, alongside
natural landscapes and architectural spaces. As many critics before us, we
will utilise as the foundation of our framework Jacques Derrida’s term haun-
tology (hantologie in French), a portmanteau of haunting and ontology. This
term appeared (brieﬂy) in Spectres of Marx (1993) as a means to critique the
historic spectre of communism. More recently, critics such as Peter Buse and
Andrew Stott have conceptually expanded the term beyond “haunting as
metaphor”in literary and cultural studies, to suggest a particular form of
atemporality present at the site of a haunting, and the resulting diﬃculty
therefrom of “conceptually solidifying the past.”They explain that:
Ghosts arrive from the past and appear in the present. However, the ghost
cannot be properly said to belong to the past, even if the apparition represents
someone who has been dead for many centuries, for the simple reason that a
ghost is clearly not the same thing as the person who shares its proper name.
Does then the “historical”person who is identiﬁed with the ghost properly
belong to the present? […] Derrida has been pleased to term this dual move-
ment of return and inauguration a ‘hauntology’, a coinage that suggests a spec-
trally deferred non-origin within grounding metaphysical terms such as
history and identity. Any attempt to isolate the origin of language will ﬁnd
its inaugural moment already dependent upon a system of linguistic diﬀer-
ences that have been installed prior to the “originary”moment.
Whilst Buse and Stott suggest a form of prior embodiment as a prerequisite
for the eﬀect of hauntology, and Derrida’s spectre is ideological, Edyta Lorek-
Jezińska develops these notions further, by intertwining hauntology with
textual interconnectivity, more broadly known as intertextuality. As Lorek-
Jezińska recognises, the intertextual reading can become expansive, so we
wish to interrogate the text using the speciﬁc focus of paratextuality. Para-
texts are the “borderlands of the text,”described by Gérard Genette as “all
those things which we are never certain belong to the text of a work but
which contribute to present –or ‘presentify’–the text by making it into a
The paratext is a transitional and transactional zone that exists
between the text and the non-text, a sort of textual liminality, which
allows us as readers to establish the kind of text we are presented with,
and how to read it. Moreover, the paratext can be divided into two further
categories: peritextual elements, for example; titles, chapter titles, prefaces
and notes; and epitextual elements, such as interviews, announcements,
reviews, private letters and other authorial or editorial decisions. In this
sense, we can suggest that the traditional terms of the ghost story (the
ﬁgure of the phantom and the notion of haunting as frequent supernatural
presence within a signiﬁcant location, with something to communicate to
a signiﬁcant character) are disrupted by the iterability of the peritextual
titles for “Oke”–both as the short story/ novella, and as an element of the
collection Hauntings –and the apparent disconnect between them and the
Hauntology, in eﬀect, provides us with a framework for examining the
traces present within the text; the disembodied persons, historical acts that
linger, the past becoming present. Tearle’s essay on Lee recognises this as
a feature of the ghost narrative, particularly those stories produced by Lee
in which “the ghost implies [an] emphasis on the past, and the return of
the past, [and] the interruption of history into the present moment.”
would like to argue that a certain number of these hauntological remnants
are shared between Lee and Alice Oke; Lee’s biography and experience
feed into the text as disembodied ﬁgures and haunted spaces. It is Genette’s
paratext that provides us with the impetus for excavating the genetic material
of the text, and the semantic lexicon to discuss these artefacts. It is the para-
textual elements which lie on the peripheries of the text –the titles, letters,
press reviews –that enable us to recognise the potential inspiration behind
the hauntological traces found in “Oke”.
With this methodology in mind, this essay will consider the ways in which
Lee’s ancestry and her visits to Coates and Godinton manifest themselves
within the originary moment –the haunting –of the text. We will focus
574 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY
particularly upon the paratextual borderlands of the text, and the hauntolo-
gical makeup of the Alice Oke/s of Okehurst. In suggesting the importance of
Lee’s own intertext on Alice, we will consider Lee’s family history to suggest
how the concept of the phantom is representative of a transgenerational
silence and her colonial family past.
The MSS as a Haunted, Haunting Object
In December 1887, Vernon Lee had the manuscript of “Oke of Okehurst”
(dated April 11, 1886) bound, with other works and had it sent to the
writer, and her partner, Agnes Mary Frances Robinson as a Christmas
present (Figure 1). This MSS –currently part of the digitisation project Holo-
–is an interesting object per se. One might even say, a
haunted object suggestive of the persistent presence of Lee’s personal ghosts.
The volume can be read both ways: starting from page 1 to page 130, is the
handwritten narrative “Oke of Okehurst.”And backwards, starting from the
back cover, Lee’s eleven-page tale “The Legend of Hilarion, How he Wit-
nessed the Nativity of Our Lord; set forth in words, after the panel of
Brother Philip Lippi, by Vernon Lee”(Figure 2). The tale, clearly an ekphra-
sis, is illustrated by Fra Lippi’s panel, and inscribed “To dear Mouse [Mary
Robinson] / with a merry Xmas”(Figure 3). This story, added several
months after Oke was published, testiﬁes to the paratextual edges of “Oke
of Okehurst.”Whilst Robinson is not immediately connected with the nar-
rative, her relationship with Lee haunts the peripheries of the text, as a com-
panion through haunted landscapes, as we shall see below.
Back, Back and Forth and Forth
Four years prior to the publication of A Phantom Lover:A Fantastic Tale Lee
had travelled from London with Mary to stay in a cottage at Waltham Park,
near Pullborough in West Sussex. Whilst there, Lee often visited friends –the
Callwells, and the artist Arthur Lemon and his family –who were staying
close to Fittleworth, a village renowned for attracting artists. In a letter to
her mother Matilda Lee wrote “[y]esterday evening we walked across the
common and hills to Coates Farm. The Callwells & Lemons walked back
with us & Mr Lemon told us some very weird ghostly experiences he has
had. He has a very haunted head.”
It is not only Lemon’s haunted-ness that remains with Lee, she frequently
describes the landscape: Lee explains to her mother that the surrounding
common land between the farm at Waltham and Coates has the “loveliest
pink & white & purple patches of heathers, & the oak and pinewoods in
Even for July, her letter suggests, the weather is very cold,
with rain every day, so it seems ﬁtting that Lee’s friend and amateur
painter Annette Callwell has “given her a very pretty sketch of a piece of
boggy common”which she will bring back to Florence with her. Our
research suggests that it is Coates Common (see Figure 4), that provides
inspiration for Cotes Common where Alice Oke murders the poet Lovelock.
Whilst the landscape of Cotes is not haunted by a spirit, it is subject to an
interweaving of complex topography and histories. Mark Riley suggests
that in this way, landscape can be intensiﬁed by “personal and collective
It is these personal and public histories, according to Merlin
Figure 1. Vernon Lee, Oke of Okehurst, MSS, title page, 1886, Spring to August. With the
kind permission of Geneviève Nouﬄard.
576 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY
Coverley, that reside within the environment, and that is what makes the
supernatural in Lee “insubstantial and associative.”
It is therefore signiﬁ-
cant that Lee situates “Oke”in England, the ﬁrst of the only two fantastic
tales in her oeuvre not set on the continent.
As we discuss below, this is
in part due to Lee’s experiences as a British ex-pat, whose colonial heritage
is tied to her maternal families’homeland. In order to excavate these para-
textual layers of personal history that haunt the landscapes of “Oke of Oke-
hurst”we need to consult the private epitext; particularly Lee’s
Figure 2. Vernon Lee, The Legend of Hilarion, MSS, title page, 1886, December. With the
kind permission of Geneviève Nouﬄard.
Figure 3. Fra Filippo Lippi, The Legend of Hilarion, Nativity by Filippo Lippi and dedication
to Mary Robinson, 1886. With the kind permission of Geneviève Nouﬄard.
Figure 4. Section taken from the map of Lower Horncroft 1897–1900. Copyright: The
Francis Frith Collection.
578 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY
correspondence. The originary moment in “Oke”below condenses the topo-
graphical and elemental details present within Lee’s correspondence, layer-
ing them tightly with the stories of (ancestral) Alice Oke and Lovelock,
and (present-day) Alice Oke and the Artist Narrator:
At last we got to an open space, a high-lying piece of common-land […]it
seemed quite preternaturally high up, giving a sense that its extent of ﬂat
heather and gorse, bound by distant ﬁrs, was really on top of the world […]
A cold wind swept in our faces.
“What is the name of this place?”[…]
“It is called Cotes Common,”answered Mrs. Oke, who had slackened the pace
of the horse, and let the reins hang loose about his neck. “It was here that
Christopher Lovelock was killed.”
During Alice and the Artist’s visit to the common, the pinks and whites of
the heather are tainted by the dying sunlight’s“crimson ripples”and the psy-
chogeographic resonances of Lovelock’s spilled blood. Lee’s narration men-
tions repeatedly the “yellow gravel-pits”on the common, a sight still evident
today. Local guides to the area suggest that the gravel-pits are a landmark;
“Coates Common […] has a mosaic of oak and birch woodland, conifer
plantations, open sandy heaths and rough grazed pasture”, with an area of
speciﬁc environmental interest called the “sandpit”.
Lee’s visit with
Lemon provided topographical and nominative inspiration for the narrative,
that when combined with Lemon’s weird ghostly experiences, haunted the
writer’s mind. The temporal return to Coates in “Oke of Okehurst”is one
of many examples in which Lee’s personal experiences haunt her textual
output. Coates, the personal experiences in the present, and the projection
of narratives of the supernatural onto the site presents the place as palimp-
sest, with each layer existing within its own temporality, and cumulatively as
a temporal palimpsest ﬁxed within the West Sussex landscape.
It is not only the wind-swept and heather strewn common of Coates that
provided inspiration for location in “Oke of Okehurst.”The stately home
Godinton, Kent, haunts Lee’s text as a model for Okehurst Manor. Whilst
Emma Liggins notes that the Female Gothic has traditionally been associated
with the fear of conﬁnement within the home, she also notes the ways in
which the genre is subversive –and pushes against patriarchal structures
and entrapment within the domestic sphere.
Lee directly connects Alice
Oke to the manor house, emphasising a sense of belonging. Lee visited God-
inton in August 1885, again with Mary Robinson. She wrote of the house to
This morning he [Mr Austin] took Mary & me over the real manor house,
called Goddington [sic], a perfect house of the early 17th century, with a
most beautiful hall, carved ﬁreplaces & stairs & panelling. I think I shall use it
up in a ghost story I am projecting.
Lee visited Godinton again in September 1886, ﬁve months after Black-
wood’s had accepted Lee’s manuscript for publication. In a letter to Robinson
(who was not with her on this occasion) she notes that she “felt quite eery on
seeing Goddinton [sic]”once more, and that she was “sure exactly on which
side of the house the yellow room is.”
Lee utilised the same term “eery”to
both Blackwood’s and to Robinson to describe the narrative and the house.
Godinton was inhabited by the Toke family, who had lived in the house from
1440, and would continue to do so, until 1895. The Toke family had plenty of
charismatic Nicholas Tokes –including Captain Nicholas Toke (1585–1677)
living at the time of Alice Oke (née Pomfret, 1626), who died at the age of 92,
on the way to London to marry his sixth wife.
His desire to marry at such a
ripe old age, was driven by the desire to have a son and heir, to keep God-
inton in the family. Unfortunately, Toke was unable to consummate his
ﬁnal marriage, and the house was inherited by his nephew, John Toke.
The portrait of a dashing Captain Nicholas Toke hangs currently in the
Great Hall at Godinton.
Lee describes (and transcribes to “Oke of Oke-
hurst”) the Great Hall as a “huge hall”with an “immense ﬁreplace of deli-
cately carved and inlaid grey and black stone, and its rows of family
portraits, reaching from the wainscoting to the oaken ceiling, vaulted and
ribbed like a ship’s hull”.
Why does Lee’s narrator repeatedly liken the
ceiling in the Great Hall to that of a ship’s hull?
Like the nave (literally: ship) in churches and sacred buildings which
symbolises the vetero-testamentary trials and tribulations of the exiled
elect people, the hull shaped hall may metaphorically recall the peregrina-
tions of some close friends of the Pagets’, fellow expatriates from distant
colonies. An example of this is Lee’s early literary mentor, Jamaica-born
novelist Henrietta Jenkin, and her husband Captain Jenkin. Henrietta
addressed the slavery issue in her novel Cousin Stella: Or, Conﬂict (1859).
More importantly, it is reminiscent of Lee’s family’s maritime ventures (on
her father’s side, the “de Fragnier-Paget”line as well as her step-brother’s
side, such as Eugene’s father: Captain Lee-Hamilton) and colonial pursuits
(Lee’s maternal ancestry).
The decadent objects artistically displayed throughout Okehurst (and its
model Godinton) are ample proof that members of the family have travelled
extensively, and share a colonial legacy akin to that of Lee’s family. William
Oke’s study materially reveals his colonial pursuits in his younger days; he
has “a polar bear beneath his feet”and on the walls displayed “whips,
guns, and ﬁshing-rods”.
Alice too, is imbibed with traces of the exotic;
she is described by the artist as rare and exotic, and a “[m]arvellous,
weird, exquisite creature”, whom both Oke and himself want to contain –
580 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY
Oke in Okehurst, and the artist, on the canvas. Even the artist’s rooms are
decorated with Oriental artefacts, he sits in reverie amongst the “Persian
rugs and majolica,”the vague scents “of rose-leaves and spices, put into
china bowls by the hands of ladies long since dead”, and encounters a
“kind of voluptuousness, peculiar and complex and indescribable, like the
half-drunkenness of opium or haschisch”.
The artist’s voyage into the
heady daydream inspired by the colonial antiquities, certainly suggests that
this decadence is intoxicating. William Oke notes that his family, in particu-
lar Nicholas, had a wanderlust, and had “sought adventures in America”.
Oke’s reticence to discuss Nicholas in any details, and his embarrassment
at hearing his name mentioned is often in part due to the connection to
Lovelock’s murder. Yet we would like to argue that perhaps to some
extent, William Oke shares some of Lee’s personal embarrassment at her
colonial heritage, and slave-owning ancestry.
Vernon Lee’sﬁrst biographer, Peter Gunn, provides little more than a short
paragraph on Lee’s ancestry; focusing on her maternal grandfather, and
hinting at his involvement with the West Indian slave trade.
mother, Matilda Adams (1815–1896) was the daughter of Edward Hamlin
Adams (1777–1842), who was born in Jamaica, and who Peter Gunn
acknowledges to have been a rich man, coming from “an old colonial
family,”“with extensive business interests in the West Indies, including a
banking house in Jamaica.”
Research in the Jamaican & Barbados
Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664–1879, census
records, and the Caribbean Birth Death and Marriage Index information,
reveals that the family presence in the West Indies stretched back to colonial
plantation settlements in the 1640s.
Currently, there are no records showing Edward Hamlin Adams’s (Lee’s
grandfather) ownership of plantations, yet he was trustee for the Hungerford
Spooner Charlottenburg Estate in Jamaica, which increased its slave popu-
lation from 101 at the start of Edward’s trusteeship to 208 at the end of
his association in 1826. The main crops of the Charlottenburg Estate were
sugar and rum.
Edward was also a retired partner for the Kingston Mer-
chant House in Jamaica, but despite being heavily involved within the mer-
chant trade he found employment as a lawyer and banker. On Edward’s
return to England after abolition he bought Middleton Hall in Carmarthen-
shire in 1824 from Sir William Paxton, undoubtedly with a fortune amassed
from proﬁts from slavery, earned and inherited. The beautiful park has now
become the National Botanic Park of Wales.
Lee’s mother, Matilda Adams (1816–1896) was the seventh (and last)
child of Edward and his wife Amelia, and was for a long time deprived of
her rights to the family estate by her eldest brother Edward Hamlin Middle-
ton Abadams, who inherited the house and property in 1842 and added the
preﬁx“Ab”to “Adams”to suggest royal descent “from Adam”.
Lee writes to A. Mary F. Robinson after visiting her cousin Lucy at Mid-
dleton Hall in 1882:
Saturday I went to Middleton inhabited by my eldest cousin & husband. The
park is very large & said to be the ﬁnest in three counties. The house is very
large, like an Italian villa, built in Louis XVI style. Anything more gloomy
than two people (my cousin in law Lawrence is jealous as a moor & has the
temper of a ﬁend) shut up in this house you can’t conceive. And I question
whether any house has seen so much family folly, misbehaviour & wickedness,
such violence & misery in forty years, as this has. It is much worse to me than
any amount of Wuthering Heights: a complication of wrongs & folly & wretch-
edness & violence in a large family. The house is full of portraits brought from
the West Indies, & it is curious how like all these people are to my mother,
brother & cousins. The odd part is that I am per all these rather amiable, intel-
ligent, easily rakish but tolerably normal looking West Indians seem to have
been curdled into something bad by the mixture of a strong & violent type
in the shape of an iron New Englander, a godfearing [sic] soldier of Washing-
ton, whose legend is that he had the arm which was blown oﬀ, rearmed in the
canon & ﬁred back on the enemy.
All the frightful earnestness & obstinacy is from him. The melancholy thing is
to see everywhere, in this house, where the only thing aspired after was supre-
macy, the only thing preserved is enmity & indulgence was rampant, the good
quiet motto of grandpapa, too cold to conceive that his children might be
trained to self restraint [sic]:
“Aspire, Persevere, Indulge Not.”
For Lee, the Adams’s family portraits bear a close resemblance to those of her
cousins, mother and brother. Lee falls short of including herself in this phy-
siognomic analysis, writing “[t]he odd part is that I am per all.”In crossing
out “I am per,”Lee was beginning to state “I am perhaps”or “I am person-
ally,”which may have aligned Lee more with her father’s image, or, more
than likely, it was an attempt to distance herself away from the colonial por-
traiture. In striking out the deﬁnitive “Iam”Lee returns to an impersonal
critique of her family in which the West Indies colonisers’blood is
curdled by that of a colonial New Englander. William Oke bears the same
critique of the Oke family: it is the mixing of familial lines that leads to dis-
aster: “the ﬁrst time an Oke [Nicholas] married a Pomfret [ancestral
In the extract above, Lee only uses the ﬁrst-person singular pronoun
twice: “I went”and “I question.”This seems to perfectly sum up the relation-
ship Lee has with this branch of the family tree. Lee is unlike them in looks
and in beliefs. This consideration of lineage through portraiture is connected
582 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY
thematically with “Oke of Okehurst.”Kamilla Elliott argues that the painted
portrait “invert[s] and join[s] absent presence,”and that in writing these
works of art into a text “authors inscribe narratives of present absence that
promise future usurpation. The past is absent, but its presence as absence
proclaims that, just as what is past is absent now, so too, what is now
present will be absent in future.”
Therefore the picture of ancestral Alice
that hangs in the hull-like hall of Okehurst is both a presence and an
absence. It is a hauntological remnant, a version of ancestral Alice that
exists within the space of Okehurst, and signiﬁes the lack of ancestral
Alice simultaneously. Not only does this portrait highlight that ancestral
Alice is a historical ﬁgure, but that present-day Alice, in sitting for her por-
trait, will also soon be an absent ﬁgure, represented or memorialised on
canvas. Drawing a parallel here between Lee’s own experience of the Middle-
ton portraits and those of the Okes, the hull-like hall of Okehurst metaphori-
cally carries the Adams’family portraits back to Britain from the West
Indies. But Alice wants to identify with her ancestress, despite her outlying
position within the family, whereas Lee refuses her place in the Middleton
Elliott also believes that the gender politics of paintings are signiﬁcant,
with “matriarchal picture identiﬁcations in Gothic ﬁction”having the
ability to “undermine, overthrow, and reform patriarchs.”
Alice Oke’s friendship with, and subsequent murder of, the poet Lovelock
had the potential to disrupt and potentially undermine the Oke line. Further-
more, present-day Alice’s presence at Okehurst appears to fulﬁl a prophecy
made by Nicholas Oke on his deathbed, “that when the head of his house and
the master of Okehurst should marry another Alice Oke, descended from
himself and his wife, there should be an end to the Okes of Okehurst.”
Alice is disrupting the familial line and its visual representation –the portrait
gallery –by identifying herself with her namesake. She becomes indeﬁnable
object/ subject, one that exists hauntologically, both as her past and present
self. The connection between ancestral Alice and present-day Alice is not just
simply through the institution of marriage and descendance, but through a
shared aesthetic ideal and a deep admiration of Lovelock and his poetry.
This visit to the family home in Carmarthenshire also reveals to Lee her
own ancestral family’s tendencies towards claiming supremacy, fostering
enmity and indulgence. These qualities evident in the Adams family seem
in diametric opposition to the grandfather’s motto of “Aspire, Persevere,
Indulge Not”which suggests a “do as I say, not as I do”approach to child
rearing. But perhaps these ascetic values were aimed at moderating
Adams’s large staﬀ(and not just those resident in Carmarthenshire) rather
than the multitudes of children, grandchildren and in-laws (for indeed, if
it was an attempt to morally educate the Adams family, it doesn’t appear
to have worked). The aristocratic lineage, putting slaves to work for proﬁt
and the beneﬁt of a lavish and indulgent lifestyle is something Lee returns to
in her oeuvre as an antithesis to her own moral erectness, as can be seen in
works such a Baldwin: Being Dialogues on Views and Aspirations (1886).
Unlike Adams’s family with their sprawling network of cousins and
distant relatives, the Okes only appear to have one another. Both William
and Alice discuss their lineage, but never mention close relations; event
when discussing their childhood, it appears that they were each other’s
only family, with their seventeenth-century relations used to scare.
William tells the artist narrator: “They used to tell it us when we were chil-
dren […] and to frighten my cousin –I mean my wife –and me with stories
The “they”of William’s anecdote are disembodied
ﬁgures, without an identity. One can assume that for a family such as the
Okes at Okehurst, the children would have been taken care of by a nanny
or governess, or perhaps left to be entertained by the servants. The tale of
adulterous ancestors and murdered poets seems unlikely to have been
polite table talk amongst the family at meal-time. The absence of the pres-
ence of others –apart from the artist narrator –at Okehurst is conspicuous
by their absence. Lee suggests that the house is staﬀed more than adequately
when William says to Alice “for mercy’s sake, don’t talk about such things
before the servants.”
Alice responds: “The servants! Gracious heavens!
Do you suppose they haven’t heard the story? Why, it’s as well known as
Okehurst itself in the neighbourhood.”
The way in which the Oke family
manages its help so that it remains an unseen –and un-thanked –support
system brings the reader back once more to the paratextual correspondence
of Lee. Middleton’s servants, many brought over to Britain from the West
Indies, existed in the shadows of the ancestral home. These servants, past
and present, appear in passing comments between Alice and William, and
they haunt Okehurst. They are not fully embodied, but the reader is aware
they are there as how would a house like Okehurst function without
them? Who would indulge Alice’s whims and wishes?
In conclusion, to approach Hauntings, and more speciﬁcally “Oke of Oke-
hurst, or A Phantom Lover,”without recourse to the paratextual examples
provided, is not to miss out on any of the narrative pleasure. Yet Lee’s title
–Hauntings –an example of what Genette would term “defective,”brings
about a question of accuracy –as the review from the Pall Mall pointed
Lee playfully signposts this inaccuracy, or does she? Is this, in eﬀect
a title for the reader to indicate what to expect, or is Lee writing purely for
herself and for those who knew her –Lemon, Robinson and Boutourline?
In bringing to the fore autobiographical details from Lee’s life, and epitextual
material, we are able to see that the roots of the places and events in “Oke of
Okehurst”are ﬁxed in the soil of reality. The spaces and people Lee trans-
poses into “Oke”were once living or were forms to be physically experi-
enced. Lee emphasises the ﬂeetingness of experience and feeling, as those
584 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY
moments experienced, or persons embodied are no longer in Lee’s presence/
present. But it is evident from the paratextual material that these disembo-
died acts and historical places lingered in Lee’s memory; they are that
which haunts Lee; or, are Lee’s hauntings.
Lee’sHauntings are of the purely mnemic kind: the spurious ghosts
encountered are those that have haunted Lee’s mind, not spooky houses.
The hauntological exists in the traces of the exotic; both in Alice’s psycho-
logical makeup and the ephemera that decorates Okehurst. And whilst
these apparitions are ephemeral and intransigent, on our initial reading of
the text, the paranormal entities manifest more often, and with more
clarity, when considered alongside the paratextual evidence.
1. Anon., “Vernon Lee’s Hauntings”,Pall Mall Gazette, April 23, 1890. British
Library Newspapers, GALE Y3200422904.
3. Oliver Tearle, “Vernon Lee”,inThe Routledge Handbook to the Ghost Story,
eds. Scott Brewster and Luke Thurston (New York and Abingdon: Routledge,
2018), pp. 150–58 (p. 155).
4. Vernon Lee, “Preface”,inHauntings and Other Fantastic Tales, eds. Catherine
Maxwell and Patricia Pulham (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Editions,
2006), p. 37.
5. Ibid., p. 40.
6. Tearle, p. 151.
7. Vernon Lee to Matilda Paget, July 11–12, 1885, in Selected Letters of Vernon
Lee 1856–1935,Volume II, eds. Sophie Geoﬀroy and Amanda Gagel
(London and New York: Routledge, 2021), pp. 59–62.
8. Sophie Geoﬀroy, “Vernon Lee’s Life and Letters 1885–1889”,inSelected
Letters, Vol. II, p. xlvi. About Robinson’s Songs, see Ana Parejo Vadillo,
“Immaterial Poetics: A. Mary F. Robinson and the Fin-de-Siècle Poem”,in
The Fin-de-Siècle Poem: English Literary Culture and the 1890s, ed. Joseph
Bristow (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005), n. 57 (p. 260). Peter
(“Pierre”) Boutourline (Petr Dmitrievich Buturlin; 1859–1895), born in Flor-
ence, was a Russian diplomat and poet. In January 1885, Lee writes to Mary
Robinson that he had just gone to Kiev; and the dedication reads like a
letter of invitation to return; he comes back for his sister’s wedding in
October 1885 and stays on a few months in Florence, making plans for the
staging of Mary’s garden play (February 1, 1886): “I told Peter Boutourline
about yr garden play, & he is wild to act it at Careggi.”He has chosen the
actors –Bellamy, you; Hilaria, Zina or Miss Elaguine; & he & his brother Alex-
andre the women. He has conceived marvellous dresses for himself (with
pearls! Dear Miss Paget –“avec beaucoup de jais, n’est-ce-pas –surtout beau-
coup de jais!”) and conceived marvellous scenes with orange trees in the dis-
tance & a rampe of “real jonquils planted in the ground!”Feb. 13, 1886: “Elena
French oﬀers to hire peacocks, as Boutourline refuses to act without them &
many hidden pots of violets!”Mary Robinson will eventually publish her
play in Songs, Ballads, and a Garden Play (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1888).
The play, entitled “Our Lady of the Broken Heart”, refers to Robinson’s jea-
lousy and heartbreak over Lee’s friendship for Alice Callander and attraction
to Lady “Archie”(Archibald Campbell) and emulated the latter’s Coombe pas-
9. Vernon Lee to William Blackwood, April 13, 1886, Selected Letters, Vol. II,
10. Anthony Mandal, “The Ghost Story and the Victorian Literary Marketplace”,
in The Routledge Handbook to the Ghost Story, pp. 32–39 (p. 36).
11. Vernon Lee to Matilda Paget, June 8, 1886, Selected Letters, Vol. II, p. 174.
12. Vernon Lee to William Blackwood, June 8, 1886, Selected Letters, Vol. II,
13. Mandal, pp. 33–34.
14. Vernon Lee to Matilda Paget, August 25, 1886, Selected Letters, Vol. II, p. 225.
15. “Oke of Okehurst; Or, A Phantom Lover”has recently (2020) been repackaged
and republished for the #ReclaimHerName campaign organised by the Bailey’s
Prize for Women’s Fiction. In a rather misguided attempt to publish Lee under
her birth name, the campaign reproduced a copy of A Phantom Lover by Violet
16. Tearle, p. 151.
17. Vernon Lee, Alice Oke; roman traduit de l’anglais par Michel Desforges (Tou-
louse: Ombres, 1990).
18. Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre,
trans. Richard Howard (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975), p. 157.
19. Peter Buse and Andrew Stott, “Introduction: A Future for Haunting”,in
Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History, eds. Peter Buse and Andrew
Stott (London: Palgrave, 1999), pp. 1–20 (p. 11).
20. Gérard Genette, “The Proustian Paratext”,SubStance: A Review of Theory and
Literary Criticism, 17.2 (1988) 62–77 (63).
21. Tearle, p. 150.
22. To view the complete MSS, see Holographical-Lee (HoL),<https://eman-
23. Vernon Lee to Matilda Paget, July 15, 1882, in Selected Letters of Vernon Lee
1856–1935 Volume I,eds. Amanda Gagel and Sophie Geoﬀroy (London and
New York: Routledge, 2017), pp. 378–79.
24. Vernon Lee to Matilda Paget, July 13, 1882, Selected Letters Vol. I, p. 377.
25. Mark Riley, “Place as Palimpsest: Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger and the
Haunting of Todtnauberg”,inHaunted Landscapes: Super-Nature and the
Environment, eds. Ruth Heholt and Niamh Downing (London: Rowman &
Littleﬁeld, 2016), pp. 23–40 (p. 23).
26. Merlin Coverley, Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past (Harpenden: Oldcastle
Books, 2020), p. 52.
27. The other fantastic tale written by Lee and situated in Britain is “The Hidden
Door”, published in Henry Norman (ed.), Unwin’s Annual, 1887: The Witch-
ing Time, Tales for the Year’s End (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1886).
28. Lee, p. 133.
29. Fittleworth Parish Council, Fittleworth Neighbourhood Development Plan,
2018–2033, (2018), 12 Aug. 2020 <https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/wp-
30. Emma Liggins, The Haunted House in Women’s Ghost Stories: Gender, Space
and Modernity, 1850–1945 (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Gothic, 2020), p. 7.
586 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY
31. Vernon Lee to Matilda Paget, August 21, 1885, Selected Letters, Vol. II, p. 87.
32. Vernon Lee to Mary Robinson, September 3, 1886, Selected Letters, Vol. II,
33. Sarah Stuart, “In Want of an Heir”,Kent Life (November 2016), 28 Jul. 2020
34. “Captain Nicholas Toke”, 28 Jul. 2020 <https://godintonhouse.co.uk/house/>.
35. Lee, p. 111.
36. Ibid., p. 118.
37. Ibid., p. 110.
38. Ibid., p. 112.
39. Ibid., p. 121.
40. Peter Gunn. Vernon Lee, Violet Paget, 1856–1935 (London: Oxford University
Press, 1964), p. 14.
42. The Adams’s family tree was traced back using ancestry.co.uk. Sally Black-
burn-Daniels has produced a family tree, including searchable Census,
Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes, and other records. See Sally Blackburn-
Daniels’s doctoral thesis ‘The Scholar’s Copy Book’and the ‘Blotting-Book
Mind’: Stratigraphic Approaches to Interdisciplinary Reading and Writing in
the Work of Vernon Lee (2019).
43. “Edward Hamlin Adams, Proﬁle & Legacies Summary”,Legacies of British
Slave-Ownership, 10 Oct. 2017 <https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/
44. Jill Davies, “Vernon Lee and her Abadam cousins”,Vernon Lee Online. https://
45. Vernon Lee to Mary Robinson, August 8, 1882, Selected Letters, Vol. I, p. 394.
46. Lee, p. 121.
47. Kamilla Elliott, Portraiture and British Gothic Fiction: The Rise of Picture
Identiﬁcation, 1764–1835 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press,
2012), p. 5.
48. Ibid., p. 17.
49. Lee, p. 131.
50. See Sally Blackburn-Daniels’s doctoral thesis, ‘The Scholar’s Copy Book’and the
‘Blotting-Book Mind’: Stratigraphic Approaches to Interdisciplinary Reading
and Writing in the Work of Vernon Lee (2019).
51. Lee, p. 124.
54. Gérard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1987), p. 57.
55. Vernon Lee, Oke of Okehurst, MSS, title page, 1886, Spring to August. With the
kind permission of Geneviève Nouﬄard. Editor: Projet EMAN, Holographi-
cal-Lee, Sophie Geoﬀroy, Université of La Réunion & Institut des textes et
manuscrits modernes, CNRS-ENS. Consulted 07/06/2021, platform EMAN:
56. Vernon Lee, The Legend of Hilarion, MSS, title page, 1886, December. With the
kind permission of Geneviève Nouﬄard. Editor: Projet EMAN, Holographi-
cal-Lee, Sophie Geoﬀroy, Université de La Réunion & Institut des textes et
manuscrits modernes, CNRS-ENS. Consulted 07/06/2021, platform EMAN:
57. Fra Filippo Lippi, The Legend of Hilarion, Nativity by Filippo Lippi and dedica-
tion to Mary Robinson, 1886. With the kind permission of Geneviève
Nouﬄard. Editor: Projet EMAN, Holographical-Lee, Sophie Geoﬀroy, Univer-
sité de La Réunion & Institut des textes et manuscrits modernes, CNRS-ENS.
Consulted 07/06/2021 platform EMAN: <https://eman-archives.org/HoL/ﬁles/
58. Anon., Map of Lower Horncroft 1897–1900, RNC769395. Copyright: The
Francis Frith Collection.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Notes on contributors
Dr Sally Blackburn-Daniels is currently a Research Assistant in the department of
English and Creative Writing at The Open University, UK. She is working currently
working on turning her thesis –a single author study of Vernon Lee –into a mono-
graph. Sally is a reviewer of Victorian Poetry for the Years’Work in English Studies
and is co-editing a special issue on Vernon Lee. Her current publications include:
“‘Struggling with the tempter’: the Queer Archival Spaces of Vernon Lee, Mary
Robinson, and Amy Levy,”in Volupte: Interdisciplinary Journal of Decadence
Studies (2020), and “A Theatrical Performance of Vernon Lee’s The Ballet of the
Nations,”in Skenè. Journal of Theatre and Drama Studies (2020). Sally is the Com-
munications Oﬃcer for the International Vernon Lee Society (IVLS). sally.
Sophie Geoﬀroy is Professor (English Literature) at the University of La Réunion
(France). She is the founding Chair for the International Vernon Lee Society
(IVLS), the founding editor of The Sibyl, Journal of Vernon Lee Studies and
directs the Holographical Lee project (HoL) hosted on the eMAN platform of the
ITEM-ENS-CNRS. Sophie was associate editor for the Selected Letters of Vernon
Lee 1856–1935, Volume I, edited by Amanda Gagel. She is the chief editor of the
Selected Letters of Vernon Lee 1856–1935, Volume II (New York & London: Routle-
dge, 2020), with Amanda Gagel (associate editor) and currently editing Volume III of
these letters. geoﬀroysophie974@gmail.com
588 S. BLACKBURN-DANIELS AND S. GEOFFROY