“Traces of the exotic” in Vernon Lee’s “Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover”

Blackburn-Daniels, Sally and Geoffroy, Sophie (2021). “Traces of the exotic” in Vernon Lee’s “Oke of Okehurst; Or, The Phantom Lover”. Women's Writing, 28(4) pp. 569–588.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09699082.2021.1985294


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.

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