Delivering the third talk in the 2019/20 Leeds Cultural Conversations series in February, Ruth Robbins talked about the fin-de-siecle writer Vernon Lee (real name Violet Paget) and how she used the genre conventions of the ghost story to speak of desires that in her own time had very little visibility.
The lesbian is a figure who has been marginalised and even erased from literary history. Unlike the much more visible gay man, strategies for representing female same-sex desires are considerably more coded and covert.
In Lee’s work the lesbian ghost is fleeting – now you see her, now you don’t. But the very fact of her appearance expresses the will to be both seen and heard. The work of recovering that story is an important part of lesbian literary history.
Ruth Robbins is Professor of English Literature and head of the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities. Her work has focused on the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, on autobiography, on literary theory and on particular writers such as Oscar Wilde and Arnold Bennett.