Flirtatious and recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon seeks a new and advantageous marriage for herself and at the same time attempts to push her daughter into marriage with a man she detests. The plot unfolds through letters exchanged among Lady Susan, her family, friends and enemies.
It was a pleasure, as always, to read Austen in her cynical, gloves-off mode. She obviously had affection and admiration for the devilish Lady Susan.
The story is told in letters back and forth, some by Lady Susan, some to her, and all of them about her. Lady Susan has made London a little hot for herself, so she has invited herself to stay in the country with her late husband's wife and family. This might have been awkward for some people. After all, she did try to persuade her brother-in-law not to marry. But she sails right in and makes herself at home. In no time, she is bewitching her hostess's brother and making plans for her daughter's marriage.
I really enjoyed this one. It was very short, but it was a fun book that I couldn't put down until I got to the end. I was hoping Lady Susan would get what was coming to her, but I won't tell you what happens.
Lady Susan was written early in Austen's career; however, it wasn't published until fifty-plus years after her death. For the most part, a fun introduction to Austen's later works.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a very quick read and Austen's wit is uncanny. Lady Susan is both a hero and a villain. There are times that I root for her to succeed, yet I know that she should not behave in the way that she does. The unraveling of the plot through letters was executed flawlessly. Austen is always a pleasure to read, and her shorter pieces are perfect for those that are slightly frightened by lengthier novels.
Austen created charming and sympathetic young women in many of her novels, but she also had a gift for creating scheming women like Mary Crawford and Lucy Steele. Lady Susan is every bit as entertaining as any of Austen's schemers.
I'll read the book at some point in the future, but I'm glad I experienced it first through the Naxos audio version. Highly recommended!
It did its job, though: I am now much tempted to investigate her mature work, which I never was before. I should have given it four stars, but for the hasty wrap-up (I wanted to see something of Frederica's true character).
The protagonist is certainly unusual: an accomnplished coquette who is totally self-centered and selfish. She uses her beauty and intelligence to trap the best possible husband while maintaining a relationship with a married man. She is not a character for whom the reader has much sympathy since she is such a flagrant manipulator who treats her only child cruelly; however, one cannot help but admire her command of the language. She is so adept that she can convince someone a truth is a falsehood and vice-versa.
This is a highly entertaining book which certainly illustrates Austen's understanding of social machinations.
The ending is abrupt; the epistolary format is abandoned to achieve an ending. It must, however, be remembered that the book was never published during Austen's lifetime and so was probably "unfinished" in several ways.
It's not that I don't find it worth reading. This novel is very different in tone than Austen's other novels--her titular heroine is a villain--a catty and malicious adulteress trying to force her daughter Frederica into a marriage of convenience. But if I weren't an Austen fan, I doubt I'd have persisted in reading it far enough for the fascination of Lady Susan's machinations to take hold, although take hold they did. The ending nevertheless feels abrupt to me.
I understand Phyllis Ann Karr did a third person narrative adaptation of the story. Particularly since she's an author I've liked, I'd love to read that. Sadly it's long out of print.
Lady Susan is used to always getting her way. She uses people to further herself and then when she is finished with them she moves on. The story revolves around her efforts to seduce and marry a young wealthy man. Through the observations and letters of those she comes in contact with we learn that everyone is concerned she might succeed. They warn the man in question, but he’s blinded by infatuation.
We don’t have long enough to become attached to any of the characters, but it’s still interesting to see how it unfolds. I thought the ending was wonderfully just and was happy with the book overall.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re an Austen devotee it’s a must. Though the story isn’t as good, it’s fun to see Austen try a different style and exercise her writing skills. For anyone new to Austen I would say skip this one and start with one of her well-known novels.
“Where there is a disposition to dislike, a motive will never be wanting.”
Lady Susan is an epistolary novel, composed of a series of letters exchanged between the close friends and relations of Lady Susan Vernon. The novel opens with the beautiful, yet selfish, Lady Susan informing her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon, of her plans to visit his family. Lady Susan’s husband, Frederic Vernon, died six months earlier from a prolonged illness.
For the past three months, Lady Susan and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Frederica, have been living with friends, the Mainwarrings. However, Lady Susan now finds it prudent to place Frederica in school in London and retire to Churchill, the country estate of her brother-in-law.
The reader soon learns from a letter sent by Lady Susan to her friend, Mrs. Johnson that a complicated set of love affairs made it necessary for Lady Susan to extricate herself from the Mainwarring’s circle, which consists of Mainwarring, his wife, his sister, and Sir James Martin.
With her blatant encouragement, Mainwarring has fallen in love with Lady Susan. She has also formed a scheme to marry Frederica to Sir James. Unfortunately, Frederica is repulsed by him and has no desire to fulfill Lady Susan’s plan.
Catherine, the witty and insightful wife of Charles, welcomes the opportunity to observe Lady Susan’s character and determine if it as bad as she has heard. Reginald de Courcey, Catherine’s brother who also enjoys the study of character, is invited to Churchill to meet and observe Lady Susan.
As Lady Susan comes to Churchill, she seeks the opportunity to establish a veneer of good character and the opportunity to sponge off of the good-natured Charles. Her good manners and sweet countenance do not deceive Catherine. Lady Susan continues her relationship with Mainwarring through the exchange of letters.
Much to Catherine’s disappointment, the wealthy and eligible Reginald is easily convinced by Lady Susan that the allegations against her are false and he soon falls victim to her charms.
Due to an attempt to run away from school to escape her mother’s marital schemes, Frederica is expelled from school and brought to Churchill. Lady Susan forbids Frederica from discussing any part of her relationship with Sir James with her aunt and uncle and places severe restrictions on her interactions with the family circle. However, Catherine pity’s the shy and vulnerable Frederica and seeks to establish a relationship of trust with her.
Sir James Martin appears unannounced to court Frederica and invites himself to stay at Churchill. Frederica, who has fallen in love with Reginald, is horrified and appeals to Reginald to save her from contact with Sir James. Once again, Lady Susan’s charms quickly smooth things over.
Sir James is vanquished and Lady Susan finds it prudent to remove to London where she can have open contact with Mainwarring, although she has become tentatively engaged to Reginald.
Once in London, Lady Susan receives visits from Mainwarring, who has now abandoned his wife. Reginald follows Lady Susan to London and visits the home of her friend, Mrs. Johnson. There he meets Mrs. Mainwarring, who has come to appeal to Mr. Johnson (her former guardian). Mrs. Mainwarring’s accounts quickly expose Lady Susan’s true character and Reginald promptly ends his engagement to her.
It is interesting to note that Austen’s condemnation of adulterous behavior within Lady Susan is light when compared to how she handled the topic in Mansfield Park. Also of note is the fact that Austen imparts absolutely no sympathetic qualities to Lady Susan, whereas the actions or motives her other female “villains” are mitigated by the conditions of their upbringing (Mary Collins of Mansfield Park) or the financial situations they find themselves in (Lucy Steele of Sense and Sensibility). Although very beautiful, Lady Susan is portrayed as selfish, manipulative, deceptive and cunning. The only positive qualities attributed to Lady Susan are due to Catherine’s belief that no one could possibly be as malignant as the rumors have portrayed Lady Susan to be
Her physical beauty would also appear to give her an opportunity to create a false image of herself. A willingness to be deceived and manipulated can be found in many of the characters throughout Lady Susan, who easily accept her version of events and motivations despite firsthand evidence to the contrary. Although Reginald makes slight attempts to question Lady Susan’s behavior, in general the characters have no desire to confront her about her choices or inconsistencies and have an attitude of maintaining the status quo, even when her behavior is having a direct impact on them.
I would recommend Lady Susan as an excellent example of Austen’s character-driven style. Her use of letters cleverly allows her to both describe specific situations and relationships in detail and establish a background of events and feelings that are left to the reader’s imagination. In spite of its interwoven plot, Lady Susan is a quick read and would serve as a good introduction to Austen’s body of work.
However, the best recommendation for reading it is that it clearly illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the epistolary form. I found Lady Susan far more interesting than Austen's other villianesses largely because her letters gave me an insight into her own view of herself. However, Austen was at a lose of how to end the novel using letters and abandoned them, writing a summary conclusion instead.
At first I thought I wasn't going to get along with it very well. The first few letters, it was hard to tell who was writing to who, for me. I didn't think the characters and voices were all that distinct. But giving it a chance worked out. The most distinct character is, of course, Lady Susan herself -- not that she is the most likeable. In a way, she's an unreliable narrator, but even she can't really conceal what she's actually up to. The reader certainly isn't deceived by her for very long. The other characters in the novel mostly just react to her, so they aren't quite as distinct, but they're well-meaning and not unlikeable.
The abrupt end of the novel was disappointing, though. I had to wonder if Austen got tired of trying to write it through the more difficult method of letters and decided to just end it with a wave of the godly author's hand (TM). The conclusion is pretty unsatisfying because of it.
This is a rather brilliant epistolary novel focused on the recently widowed Lady Susan, who schemes her way - through flirtations and leveraging connections made - as she hunts for a husband for herself and one for her 16-year-old daughter, all the while continuing to maintain a relationship with a married man. From a character examination perspective, this story provides great insight into the Vernon family - Lady Susan's relations through her dead husband - and their thoughts and feelings, as well as those of Lady Susan's intimate friend and 'accomplice in crime' as it were, Alicia Johnson, Lady Susan and her daughter Frederica.
An excellent examination of a woman of the time period who will stoop to anything to get what she wants, within a narrow scope of reason and social moral virtues. This is the book where I can now appreciate why there are so many Jane Austen fans out there!