Hermione Lee was born in Winchester, England, and grew up in London. She was educated at the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle, City of London School for Girls, and Queen's College, London, before earning a First in English literature at Oxford University and then an MPhil degree. She began her academic career at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, USA, and went on to teach at Liverpool University, the University of York (1977-1998), and New College, Oxford, where she was the Goldsmiths' Chair of English Literature and the first female fellow. In 2008, she was elected President of Wolfson College at Oxford. She has written widely on women writers, American literature, and modern fiction. Prof. Lee's books include The Novels of Virginia Woolf (1977), Elizabeth Bowen: An Estimation (1981); Philip Roth (1982), Willa Cather: A Life Saved Up (1989), the biography Virginia Woolf (1996), and Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (2013), winner of the James Tait Black Prize. She has also edited and introduced numerous editions and anthologies of Kipling, Trollope, Virginia Woolf, Stevie Smith, Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, and Penelope Fitzgerald. She was one of the co-editors of the Oxford Poets Anthologies from 1999 to 2002.
She is also well known for her book reviews in The Guardian, The New York Review of Books, and other media. She served as jury chair for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2006, and has judged many other literary prizes.
She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.