Lady Susan by Jane Austen

    I first bought a copy of Lady Susan many years ago but it has taken until now for me to read it. I think it may have been the epistolary nature of the novel which put me off but I was able to get over that and read it in one sitting. Jane Austen probably wrote Lady Susan in 1794 when she was nineteen but it was never published during her life, appearing in print in 1871. Written as a series of letters, it owes much to the 18th century convention of letter writing. In my edition, Lady Susan was published together with the fragments The Watsons and Sanditon which I will be writing about at a later date. 

    Lady Susan sparkles with Jane Austen's wit. It is such an amusing read. We follow the story of Lady Susan, who we quickly realise is an incorrigible flirt and arch manipulator, through her correspondence with her sister-in- law on the one hand and her friend and confidante on the other. We are also given her sister in law's true feelings through her letters to her mother. Lady Susan is forced to visit her brother in the country following a disastrous stay at a fashionable house where she seems to have caused havoc flirting with both the husband and his daughter's suitor. Lady Susan is completely self-absorbed and aware of her actions. She toys with men for the sport of it and proceeds to do just this. She also is determined to marry her daughter off, revealing herself as a less than concerned and loving mother.

    Some of the preoccupations of the age which feature in her later novels appear in Lady Susan. There is the need to acquire status and respectability through marriage and the vulnerability of women who may be regarded as a commodity. The question of marrying for love or money and the clash of values between Town and Country.  Lady Susan herself is a toxic mix of intelligence, beauty and ruthless wickedness. As the story unfolds, there is a touch of melodrama but it is so enjoyable that I accepted it for what it was. Only at the end, when the letters suddenly stopped and the story was wrapped up in a few pages of prose was the spell broken. It did feel as if the author had tired of the form and decided to finish it off. Although letters appear sporadically in her later novels, they are used as key devices to let us know what someone is thinking, as when Darcy writes to Elizabeth or Captain Wentworth addresses Anne. 

In short:  a devastatingly funny take on Regency Society

I decided to read Lady Susan as part of the Classics Club Challenge.   My full list of books can be found here. 



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