By Jane Austen
An epistolary novella about a beautiful, sophisticated, manipulative woman bent on securing her daughter’s marriage.
Lady Susan by Jane Austen is about a recently widowed woman who manipulates and schemes her way through friends and family to secure a match for her daughter. Written by Austen when she was little more than a teenager, this novella is sure to charm readers and Austen fans alike.
Told through the numerous letters between members of the Vernon and De Courcy family and friends, the novella follows the various schemes of Lady Susan, a widow, looking for ways to secure her and her daughter’s livelihood by any means necessary.
The novella starts with Lady Susan’s departure from staying with the Manwarings, where she had struck up an improper relationship with Mr. Manwaring. When Lady Susan comes to stay with her brother-in-law family’s the Vernons, she strikes up a flirtatious and scandalous relationship with Reginald De Courcy, her brother-in-law’s wife’s brother. Ten years his senior, she manages, with her good looks and pretty language, to charm Reginald out of his previous prejudice against her.
As the rest of the family struggles to fight this potentially ruinous match, Lady Susan’s daughter, Frederica, gets caught in the mix. Having tried to run away from boarding school, Frederica comes to stay with the Vernons. The opposite of her mother, mild, meek Frederica does what she can to fight her mother’s plans to marry her off to a bumbling, but rich, fool of a man, to interesting results.
Though the novella is told through letters, Austen uses this technique to great effect, creating a quick, witty story with a cast of characters that each have their own, clear voice. A clear picture of Lady Susan, the titular character, is formed both through her own correspondence and through the correspondence of her friends and family. This creates a hilarious back and forth wherein Lady Susan is shown to be both manipulative and charming enough to get her way most of the time.
I absolutely love Austen’s social commentary that arises from this book. Though the families involved are all well-to-do, it is fun to see her create such fascinating characters while at the same time poking fun at the distraught, often feverish scrambling of the upper-class. While Lady Susan is meant to be seen as selfish, a temptress and probable adulterer, and manipulative, Austen provides her with just enough humor and strength that it’s hard to hate her character. In the end, the reader is just as charmed by her as other characters and that, I think, is a great skill on Austen’s part, especially considering how young she was when she wrote this book.
Literary Value: 5/5
The witty dialogue alone is enough to make this book stand out. It is charming, hilarious, and so quick-witted that it’s almost like watching a tennis match. As characters write of their elation in one letter, by the next they are laid low by new developments, creating a sense of whiplash, but it is so well written that it does not come off as too fast-paced or difficult to follow. Though the dialogue is very much a product of the period it was written in, this book is still very accessible and the sentiments of each character ring clear.
While there are multiple characters and the story is only told through their letters, Austen’s writing shines through because each character still manages to become fully formed for the reader. Lady Susan is such an amazing character, a powerful personality with less than admirable qualities that still manages to fascinate the reader and stave off being called villainous.
Entertainment Factor: 4/5
This book was such a fun read. I loved all the back-and-forth between characters, the quickly paced plot, and the witty writing. Austen has always been a favorite author of mine, but not all her books shine the way this one does. It’s short and sweet and the cleverness of Lady Susan definitely makes her one of my favorite Austen characters. I think that this novella is definitely a great choice for any reader who might be hesitant to dip into Austen’s work.
Cover Art Rating: -/5
As with many classic novels, cover art was not much of a consideration back in the day. In this case, I read the Penguin Classics copy of the book, so there really isn’t much of a cover, so I will skip this category of rating for this book.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
I highly enjoyed this book and it has so many things to recommend itself to readers: it’s short and sweet, it’s witty and humorous, and most of all the story and characters are strong. Austen is a masterful writer and this book, though not one of her most well-known works, definitely deserves attention. I definitely recommend this book. If you’re looking for a short, sweet summer read, this one definitely hits the spot.
Open discussion below!
Let me know what you think! If you’ve read Lady Susan, share your thoughts! If you read some of Austen’s other work, do the same! If none of the above – are you going to read it? Are you going to pass on this one? Tell me all about it in the comments. Keep up the reading!