Had I kept a diary as an adolescent, I like to imagine that it would have had a decently high charm quotient. I suspect, though, that it mostly would have been a series of repeats, in the musical sense: “Fantasized about F— from class. Read Fitzgerald’s ‘Winter Dreams’ again. Fantasized some more. Hockey practice. I feel grubby.” In some iterations, “Winter Dreams” probably would have been replaced by “The Sensible Thing,” but I doubt much more would have changed.

I don’t think there’s a rarer literary quality than charm. It’s difficult to convey, as it is both clever and unselfconscious. It is something that, if you have it, you’re simply lucky to have been born with it; and if you’re able to regularly deploy it, you’re probably aware of your advantage over just about everyone else. Elizabeth Lee was one such possessor of charm, and it had the...