Palmerino is a deceptively slim, three-tiered endeavor in which Pritchard attempts to illuminate the life of Vernon Lee through the biographer who writes about her.
The narration follows Sylvia as she takes up residence in villa Palmerino to write, while occasionally backtracking to the life of Vernon Lee, the homely but intelligent poet born Violet. Finally, short, italicized passages appear in the form of Vernon’s ghost, as it guides Sylvia towards an accurate re-telling. The approach is nothing if not unique – an unexpected interspersing of various elements in the re-formulating of a life.
The question of Lee’s sexual preference – the origin of her attraction to women and her advances towards two of them (one attempt rebuffed, the other realized) is what drives this novel. Pritchard prose is steeped in description – nouns dressed prettily in adverbs and adjectives. She has a reverence for place and a picturesque touch with language but fails to move her story along with it. Though her writing is undoubtedly lush, this reader soon tired of how “done up” it was.
Still, Vernon’s sexual initiation – her desires which lay dormant, her resolute fear of the female touch and her eventual submission – is an alluring journey. There is definite narrative arc to this tale and an almost perfectly symmetrical conclusion to the two lives we follow. If you don’t mind a novel that takes its time and uses a little writerly flair pick up Palmerino to learn more about this Victorian lesbian.
Many thanks to Bellevue Literary Press for my advanced reader’s copy!