Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Short and sharp…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

The recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon is forced to cut short her stay at Langford when the lady of the house, Mrs Manwaring, becomes jealous of Lady Susan’s flirtation with Mr Manwaring. Off she goes to Churchill, the residence of her late husband’s soft-hearted brother, Mr Charles Vernon, and his sensible wife, Catherine. But soon Catherine is worried that Lady Susan might have got her well-manicured claws into Catherine’s brother, Reginald de Courcy, and she’s also concerned about Lady Susan’s young daughter, Frederica, whom Lady Susan is determined to marry off to an unsuitable young man against her will…

Written entirely in letters between the various friends and family members, this novella length story is full of fun. Lady Susan is so wicked one really feels the need to hiss whenever her name is mentioned, and Catherine is a delightful contrast in her general sense and good nature. While the men are all taken in by Lady Susan’s undeniable beauty and charming manners, Catherine rarely wavers in her opinion of her as a manipulative schemer and an uncaring mother. Maternal Catherine is determined that Frederica must be saved from her mother’s manipulations, but the rules of society preclude any open hostility between the two women. The only time Lady Susan drops her bewitching guard is in her letters to her dear friend, Mrs Johnson, a woman unfortunately married to an older, inconveniently respectable husband, a situation Lady Susan deplores…

“My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! Just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.”

A comedy of manners in which Austen spares no character from being a target for her sharply observational wit, this is of course much slighter than her major novels, with far less room for in-depth characterisation and a simple plot that moves quickly towards an end that is relatively obvious from an early stage. While the epistolary style adds to the fun, especially in Lady Susan’s letters to her friend when her true personality is revealed, it’s also limiting in that there’s not much room for description or for commentary on the wider society of the time. On the other hand, this makes it deliciously short, so that it can be gulped down and enjoyed in one sitting.

Part of me would have loved to have seen Austen develop these characters more deeply in a full-length novel, but I’m not sure the slight story could have borne the weight. As it stands, it feels like the perfect length for the story it tells. And Lady Susan deserves to take her place alongside some of the other major victims of Austen’s lethally wicked pen – Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mrs Bennet, the Eltons, et al. Pure pleasure!

Book 9 of 20

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56 thoughts on “Lady Susan by Jane Austen

  1. Oh, it does sound like fun, FictionFan! Austen had such a keen eye for her society, and I like the idea of all of that intrigue! Several strong female characters, too, which always makes me glad. And, yes, there are some stories best told in novella form…

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    • Her female characters are always great, aren’t they? She was so insightful and didn’t spare their defects, and Lady Susan sure had a lot of defects! She’s so much fun though – kinda like Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. You can’t help enjoying her even if you know you shouldn’t like her… 😀

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  2. I believe JA completed this when she was barely 19, under the influence of the 18C predilection for epistolary novels, an extraordinary display of psychological insight as well as sharp humour and societal expectations. Excellent review,spot on! And there’s a fairly faithful film version too, except it was given the title of another work from Austen’s juvenilia, ‘Live and Friendship’. Here’s my take from a few years ago: https://wp.me/p2oNj1-rK

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    • She was really such an excellent of observers of human fallibility, and this has all the vibrancy of youthfulness in the writing. I haven’t seen the film yet. I put it off until I read the book – it’s only taken me about four years to get around to it! But I’ll seek out the film now. I do think Lady Susan is a better title though – she is the heart of the book undoubtedly!

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      • The film is quite dense and wordy but it’s definitely worth reading Austen’s original first! There are a couple of brilliant comic turns in it (particularly Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin) and Kate Beckinsale is perfect as the title character. The director/scriptwriter Whit Stillman produced a novelisation which I remember seeing a copy of in the library but which I’ve yet to read.

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  3. So glad you also enjoyed this, FF. I found it delightfully snarky in places! She seemed looser and more playful than in her full length works. But I agree, this is the perfect length for the story.

    By the way, I had to make my blog private (long story) so I tried to send you an invitation but you don’t accept them. So if you go to my blog you can request access if you’d like. I haven’t written anything in a little bit , but I’m hopeful that I’ll feel like writing again someday! 🙂

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    • Yes, I loved her humour in this one – there’s a definite feeling of youthfulness although it’s amazing someone so young could have been so insightful about human foibles!

      I’m sorry you’ve had to go private – I hope you haven’t been being pestered by some annoying troll or something! I had no idea I don’t accept invites – must have ticked some box years ago without knowing what it was for! Thanks for letting me know, and I’ve requested access… you can’t get away from me that easily! 😉

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  4. I think this is well overdue a reread – I loved it when I read it but haven’t revisited it in a long time! I agree, I don’t think this is really substantial enough for a novel – though I really felt for poor Frederica and would have liked to see her story carried on in a novel, if Austen had ever been one for sequels.

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    • I think it’s a skill in itself for an author to know when something will work better if it’s kept short – this really was the perfect length for the story. I’d have liked more of Lady Susan’s adventures though – especially her delightfully honest letters to her friend! 😂

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  5. Mme B read it in 1993 and I can’t recall if I’ve read it all! I’ve seen the film certainly, which is great fun and I can’t believe that I haven’t read this but yet…. 🤔

    Anyway, you have given me ample reason to read it and find out! 😃

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hahaha, I certainly can’t remember any books I read as long ago as 1993 – I have problems remembering books I read last month! Even if you have read it before though, it would still be a delightful re-read – and the perfect length to be read in one sitting. 😀

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  6. Totally unexpected from Austen with its hints of immortality and absolute sneakiness. No wonder this one is not mentioned as part of the usual Austen canon. The film does the novel justice and fills in all those moments of innuendo quite well.

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  7. I thought you would enjoy this, it is certainly a lot of fun. I agree making it a full length novel would have been a bit of a stretch, it was just long enough to remain fresh and entertaining. There is almost something of the pantomime Villainess about Lady Susan, but she is a great character.

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    • Haha, yes, I did feel I should hiss and boo every time Lady Susan came on stage, but she’s such a wonderful villainess! Like Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair – you can’t help being sneakily just a little bit on her side!

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    • It never gets the same attention as the full-length books – that’s my excuse anyway for taking so long to get to it, and you’re welcome to use it too! 😉 Well worth seeking out though – delicious! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, yes, I couldn’t help developing a sneaking liking for Lady Susan despite her awfulness! I don’t often enjoy epistolary novels – they can be really restrictive. But that wasn’t a problem in this one because it was so short and because Austen did such a good job of having different voices for each of the various letter-writers.

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    • It really is different, and a lot of fun! I kinda wish she’d developed it into a full-length novel, though she’d have had to give it a more substantial plot. But Lady Susan is such a wonderfully wicked character… 😀

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