Hermione Lee was born in Winchester, England in 1948, grew up in London, was educated at Oxford, (M.A. First Class, St Hilda’s College, 1968; MPhil in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century English Literature, St Cross College, 1970), began her academic career as a lecturer in Williamsburg, Virginia (Instructor, 1970-1971) and at Liverpool University (Lecturer, 1971-1977). She taught at the University of York from 1977, where over twenty years she was Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor of English Literature. She was appointed in 1998 to the Goldsmiths’ Chair of English Literature and Fellow of New College at the University of Oxford. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s and St Cross Colleges, Oxford. She has Honorary Doctorates from Liverpool and York Universities. In 2003 she was made a Commander of the British Empire for Services to Literature.
Lee is well known as a writer, reviewer and broadcaster. She has reviewed widely, for the Times Literary Supplement, Essays in Criticism, Review of English Studies, The London Review of Books, The Observer, The Guardian, The Independent on Sunday, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker, among others. From 1982 to 1986 she presented a book programme, Book Four, on British Television’s Channel Four. Her publications include a study of the novels of Virginia Woolf, a critical appreciation of the work of Elizabeth Bowen (extensively revised for Bowen’s 1999 centenary), a book on Philip Roth, a literary biography of Willa Cather, and many editions and introductions, of Bowen, Stevie Smith, Welty, Kipling, Wharton, Trollope, Woolf, Penelope Fitzgerald and others.
Her biography of Virginia Woolf was published in Britain in 1996 and in the USA in 1997, by Knopf, to great acclaim. It won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay prize, was chosen as a New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year and short-listed for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography. Her biography of Edith Wharton was published in January 2007 by Chatto & Windus and in April 2007 by Knopf in the USA. It received wide and enthusiastic coverage and has been long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Non-Fiction Prize in the UK and for the Quill Award in the USA.
Lee held the Mel and Lois Tukman Fellowship at the Dorothy and Lewis B Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library for 2004-5. That year she gave the J Edward Farnum public lectures at Princeton, on biography, published by Princeton University Press early in 2005 as Virginia Woolf’s Nose, paperbacked in 2007. Also in 2005, Chatto & Windus published a collection of eighteen essays, including those lectures, in Body Parts: Essays on Life-Writing, paperbacked in 2007. She has held the Donald Gallup Visiting Fellowship at the Beinecke Library in Yale, Visiting Fellowships at the Council for the Humanities at Princeton and at the Lilly Library in Indiana, and a teaching Fellowship at the Beinecke, where she taught a master-class on biography. She gave the annual Lionel Trilling lecture at Columbia University in April 2007.