It’s a welcome return to another Vernon Lee work this week at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones group.
Review: “Dionea”, Vernon Lee, 1890.
The strange and sinister foundling child is a motif of weird fiction, myth, folklore, and fairy tales, and that’s what Lee gives us here. But, because it’s Lee, the story of that child is mixed in with all sorts of detail and description of the kind she presumably put in her many nonfiction works of art criticism and travel writing.
The story opens on June 29, 1873, and the place is Montemino Ligure in Italy. Our narrator is Doctor Alessandro De Rosis, and the story is told exclusively through his letters to an old frined, the Lady Evelyn Savelli, Princess of Sabina.
It starts with him asking the Princess for money to take care of some poor people in the area, specifically a girl of four or five found strapped to a plank, presumably the survivor of the wreck of a Greek ship with distinctive eyes painted on its bows.
The story proceeds casually over the years with the doctor detailing life in the area but increasingly referencing that girl.
Dionea is given to the local nuns for education. Her name comes from a scrap of parchment pinned to her original clothes. The latter seem to indicate her origins are in Cyprus or Crete. There is some dispute whether she should be christened. The consequences of possibly christening her twice are thought by some to be bad. Some of the locals definitely don’t think a girl in a convent should be named after a supposed derivation of the pagan goddess Dione, “one of the loves of Father Zeus, and mother of no less a lady than the goddess Venus.” However, a saint named Dionea is found, so she keeps her name.
At age 11, Dionea is very pretty. But she’s not well-liked in the convent. She hates lessons, sewing, and washing dishes. She just likes to look upon the sea. She seems to have an affinity for myrtle and rose bushes. The ones she habitually lays near grow unusually large. One nun even claims Dionea makes weeds grow. Dionea also likes to play with pigeons who gather around her in large numbers.Continue reading