Recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon seeks an advantageous second marriage for herself and her daughter and is not afraid to use all her guile to achieve it.
About the Book
Lady Susan is a short epistolary novel thought to have been written in 1794 (when Jane Austen would have been 19) but never submitted for publication by the author and only published in 1871, years after her death. It takes the form of letters between Lady Susan and her friend Mrs Johnson, between Lady Susan’s sister-law, Mrs Vernon, and her mother Lady de Courcy and Mrs Vernon’s brother, Reginald.
Although a juvenile work that ends rather abruptly as if the author tired of writing it, Lady Susan has the trademark wit and ability to skewer social foibles one associates with later Jane Austen novels. Notably, the eponymous heroine is an older woman who is by turns scheming, selfish, unscrupulous and conducting an unsuitable relationship with a married man. Lady Susan has no compunction about freeloading from relatives, telling falsehoods or manipulating others. Not exactly the typical heroine of a romantic novel! However, Austen manages to make the reader admire Lady Susan, if not for her morals, for her independent spirit and sheer determination to live life to the full.
The one aspect of Lady Susan’s character that gives the reader pause for thought is her awful treatment of her daughter, Frederica, whom she describes as “a stupid girl” with “nothing to recommend her”. In fact, Frederica is a rather charming young girl but suffers in Lady Susan’s eyes because of her “artlessness” when it comes to capturing a man. When Frederica resists her mother’s plan for her to marry the brainless Sir James, Lady Susan congratulates herself on her maternal affection in not insisting on the marriage, remarking that she will merely make Frederica “thoroughly uncomfortable till she does accept him”.
Lady Susan has a fitting partner-in-crime in her friend, Mrs Johnson, who advises Lady Susan to pursue Reginald de Courcy on the grounds that his father is “very infirm, and not likely to stand in your way long”. Mrs Johnson herself has the misfortune to be married to a man “just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.” Only Mrs Vernon is able to see through Lady Susan’s duplicity: “Her address to me was so gentle, frank, and even affectionate, that, if I had not known how much she has always disliked me for marrying Mr Vernon, and that we had never met before, I should have imagined her an attached friend.”
Lady Susan succeeds in capturing a husband as does Frederica, although one suspects that Frederica will find more happiness in matrimony than her mother.
Although I enjoyed the book, it does end rather abruptly and the limitations of an epistolary novel mean the characters are never fully fleshed out. However, for fans of Jane Austen, it is of interest as a early indicator of her literary potential You can download a free copy of the Kindle edition here.
Book facts: 82 pages
My rating: 3 (out of 5)
In three words: Witty, engaging, sprightly
About the Author
Jane Austen is one of the most widely read and historically important novelists in English literature famed for her realism, wit and biting social commentary.