Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. It’s designed as an opportunity to share old favourites as well as books that we’ve finally got around to reading that were published over a year ago. If you decide to take part, please link back to It’s Book Talk.
This week, a proper throwback! I’m sharing my review of Lady Susan by Jane Austen, 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’s a book I read as part of the Classics Club Challenge and my From Page to Screen Challenge, based around books adapted into films. You can read my comparison of the book and the film, Love and Friendship, here.
About the Book
Lady Susan takes the form of letters between Lady Susan Vernon 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. Lady Susan is beautiful, flirtatious and recently widowed. The letters tell of her attempts to seek an advantageous second marriage for herself and persuade her daughter into a decidedly less attractive match.
My version was a free to download edition from Amazon.
Find Lady Susan on Goodreads
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 an early indicator of her literary potential
In three words: Witty, engaging, sprightly
Try something similar: Emma by Jane Austen
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.