Lady Susan

by Jane Austin




Lady Susan, a clever and ruthless widow, determines that her daughter is going to marry a man whom both detest. Lady Susan sets her own sights on her sister-in-law's brother, all the while keeping an old affair simmering on the back burner. However, people refuse to play the roles that she assigns them, and in the end her daughter gets the sister-in-law's brother, the old affair runs out of steam, and all that is left for Lady Susan is the man intended for her daughter, the one neither can abide.

Library's rating


(445 ratings; 3.6)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
I got a kick out of the snarky little novel Lady Susan by Jane Austen. It manages to turn traditional romantic themes upside down. I'm not a big fan of epistolary novels, but here the letters back and forth effectively convey the main players' different perspectives and perceptions, as widowed Lady Susan works her mercenary schemes to land her and her daughter rich husbands, while others seek to thwart her. Lady Susan is in her early 30s, and is attractive, perceptive, intelligent, and witty. She also is totally focused on #1, and can seemingly talk any fool of a man around to seeing things her way. She typically has her eye on much younger men, making her an intriguing opposite to standard older male/younger female relationships like that of Colonel Brandon and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. Mrs. Vernon's young brother Reginald, for example, is adamantly set against Lady Susan after hearing tales of her villainy. "She (Lady Susan) does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable." However, once Lady Susan cleverly and modestly provides her side of things, he is smitten. Lady Susan is quite frank about her pulling of men's puppet strings in her letters to her friend Alicia, and concludes, “There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person pre-determined to dislike, acknowledge one's superiority." Mrs. Vernon sees through Lady Susan immediately, but despairs of making any of the mesmerized menfolk understand there is a wolf among them.

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.
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LibraryThing member cmbohn
If you think Jane Austen was all about the good girls who got their man, this little book would set you straight. Lady Susan is not a good girl. She is a manipulative, lying hypocrite. She is still quite good at getting her man, or someone else's man, or just about anything else she wants.

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.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
What's not to enjoy about Jane Austen? In this short epistolary novel, Jane's wit shines as ever in her ironic views of the world and her vivid characterizations. A must for any Austen fan.
LibraryThing member Smiler69
Lady Susan is a short epistolary novel, assumed to be written around 1794, but which was only published in 1871. We quickly learn that the heroine Lady Susan, though reputedly very beautiful, is also a wicked and perverse woman. Recently widowed, though having always been a terrible flirt, she sows discord between a man and his wife when she encourages the man make advances to her. To her particular friend Mrs. Johnson she tells what must be close to her true thoughts, while with everyone else she puts on a show of virtue and motherly love, though we know she's put her daughter in a private London school for girls which has intolerable living conditions, with the sole object of wearing her down, to force her to marry a man she has chosen for her and abhors. It reminded me in some ways of that other famous epistolary novel [Les Liaisons Dangereuses], not least of all because Lady Susan could certainly have competed with the Marquise de Merteuil for undiluted hypocrisy and depravity. It's a short work, just 2.5 hours in audio format, this version being narrated by a fantastic cast of actors. Delightful.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kaydence
Lady Susan is a novel written in letters. Austen develops her plot through the exploits described in correspondence between family and friends. Lady Susan is a huge flirt that likes to set goals of conquest and follow them through. The reader finds out that Lady Susan's husband has passed away and she is planning on visiting her brother in law while she works through her grieving process. Her sister in law is not thrilled by this announcement. In a letter from her brother, the sister in law, Catherine finds out that Susan was involved in the destruction of the marriage of the family she was staying with in London. She also ended the prospective relationship between a young man and the family's daughter in order to ensure that Susan's own daughter would end up with that man. While Lady Susan is at her brother in law's home, she does her best to weasel her way into the family. She begins a new conquest of Catherine's brother and further forces her daughter towards marriage. Lady Susan is not ashamed of her behavior. She boasts of her accomplishments and welcomes as many challenges as she can get. As conflicts grown between Catherine, Susan, and Susan's daughter, Lady Susan's plots begin to unravel. The only question is if the flirtatious woman can end up on top or if she struggles to keep her dignity in the end.

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.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Having read all of Austen's major novels, most more than once, I thought it was time to get acquainted with some of her shorter works. Since I was going to be in the car for a couple of hours today, I seized the opportunity to listen to the unabridged Naxos Audiobooks recording of Lady Susan while I was on the road. It was the perfect introduction to this epistolary novella. The Naxos recording uses different actors and actresses for each letter writer, so it was easy to keep track of the author of the current letter when the letters were lengthy.

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!
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LibraryThing member jillmwo
Short thoroughly enjoyable tale of the machinations of the title character to ensnare a husband for either herself or her daughter. I usually characterize this novella to other Austen fans as featuring a female Wickham or Willoughby. Lady Susan has no scruples in using others to achieve personal ends. However, all ends properly.… (more)
LibraryThing member Schatje
In this early epistolary "minor" novella by Jane Austen, Lady Susan Vernon, a widow, seeks a new husband for herself and one for her daughter Frederica.

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.
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LibraryThing member sloopjonb
This was recommended to me as an easy entree into the work of Jane Austen; it was written when she was only 19, I gather. I found that hard to credit as I read it; an epistolary novel, the characters gradually emerge from their correspondence, and much of the sly humour springs from the difference in how the various characters interpret things, and their true opinions as opposed to the ones they give out, and how Lady Susan believes she is, and how others see her. It is catty, worldly, and rollicking good fun ... and then all of a sudden it ends, with an authorial Conclusion, as if the young Jane had got fed up of it, and finished it off in a hurry, and you realise that yes, she was only 19 after all.

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).
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LibraryThing member nosajeel
Had not read this short, epistolary novella before. Every sentence was thoroughly enjoyable Jane Austen. But it doesn't compare to any of her best novels or even to any of her worst novels. Only one character is particularly interesting, the title character of Lady Susan, who is heartless and selfish in an eerily modern manner (complete with affairs with married men and flirtations with younger men). I could imagine her daughter being interesting, but we only glimpse her indirectly and from a distance. And everyone else feels mostly like a stock Regency character.… (more)
LibraryThing member nordie
Apart from an epilogue/conclusion this is written entirely in the form of letters. Lady Susan is recently widowed and in the possession of a 16 year old daughter she considers stupid and hateful. Susan is already the subject of much scandal and gossip (having nearly split up one marriage, and managed to break up another engagement through flirting), before she descends on the house of her brother in law for a stay as she believes she has no where else to go until the scandal settles.

Meanwhile she tries to get a suitable marriage for herself whilst trying to get her daughter off her hands by making whatever marriage agreement will suit.

Even more scandal erupts when her sister in law's brother appears and decides he is in love with her, despite the rumours.

Soon however, Susan is back in Town and through various schemes married and her daughter off her hands.

Interesting way of writing a short book, which I believe was one of the first Austen wrote, but never submitted for publication. The main character is entirely mercenary, never out for romantic love either for herself or her friends. She's only out for a suitable marriage and will be entirely two faced to get what she wants. Cant think of another character like her.
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LibraryThing member miriamkb
Lady Susan by Jane Austen was written between 1793 and 1795, although it was not published until 1871.
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.
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LibraryThing member aulsmith
While this should not be anyone's first Austen, it is another look at Austen's world, full of entertaining characters and the usual Regency romance problems.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Lady Susan is the earliest of Austen's novels, and in my opinion the weakest. (Really a novella, it's only 23,021 words.) It was written in 1794 when Austen was still in her teens. I found it hard to get into at first. Unlike her other novels, this is an epistolary novel told almost entirely in 41 letters, not third-person narration. The story feels thin compared to her other works as a result, although about halfway through we got more of a sense of scenes, with actual dialogue.

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.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
This small epistolary novel is a bit different from Austen’s other work. The title character, Lady Susan, is a manipulative selfish woman who is hard to like. She has almost no regard for her daughter Frederica and is doing her best to marry her off to the first man who comes along.

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.”
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LibraryThing member lkernagh
Another ebook download from Project Gutenberg with my favorite cover depicted above. This was a great read and way better than Pride and Prejudice! I know, I seem to be bucking the Jane Austen trend here on LT, but I found the concise manner of a story written in a series of letters between some of the characters in the story to be a strong writing style for Austen, and one that I prefer. Okay, so the ending is not in epistolary format, it is in the form of a conclusion of the author, but she does admit to why the story ends in this manner and I will agree that carrying the epistolary format to the very end was a bit of a problem. There is some speculation that [Lady Susan] was written in 1794 but not published until 1871.

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!
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
I loved this short epistolary novella detailing the selfish and devious nature of the titular character. What an incisive sketch of a horrible woman! Besides providing an hour or so’s entertainment, it has inspired me to seek out the other minor works of Austen.
LibraryThing member esquetee
Lady Susan is either the first or the last of Jane Austen's books to read. For someone new to Austen, it might be a good introduction since it is short and has a very spicy character in the form of Lady Susan herself. On the other hand, the epistolary format might throw off some readers and it was a little tricky at first, keeping track of who was writing to whom since the letters are coming from several different characters.If you would like to read Jane Austen's works in chronological order, I recommend beginning with Lady Susan.… (more)
LibraryThing member barbora.m
Beautiful language. I love Austen and epistolary novels. A really good one.
LibraryThing member jasonlf
Had not read this short, epistolary novella before. Every sentence was thoroughly enjoyable Jane Austen. But it doesn't compare to any of her best novels or even to any of her worst novels. Only one character is particularly interesting, the title character of Lady Susan, who is heartless and selfish in an eerily modern manner (complete with affairs with married men and flirtations with younger men). I could imagine her daughter being interesting, but we only glimpse her indirectly and from a distance. And everyone else feels mostly like a stock Regency character.… (more)
LibraryThing member wanderlustlover
This was fun and it reminds me that at times we try to box Jane Austen in too much. This book is so much about poking fun at the system. About turning things on their side and seeing if it changes how we view them. I found this a fast, and surprisingly funny, read.
LibraryThing member BooksOverTv
I'm extremely happy to have read this little book of letters, great concept. As I was reading, Lady Susan reminded me of a movie I'd watched called Lillie played by Francesca Annis made in 1978. I would recommend this book to lovers of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Historical/Regency Fiction.
LibraryThing member cshoughton
I'd never read an epistolary novel prior to Lady Susan, although I understand it was once a popular format. The he-said she-said back and forth did suit the story well enough, but I missed real narrative prose and the format felt limiting. That said, the characters were compelling and the writing solid.

Lady Susan herself really interested me. She has remarkable depth. I couldn't stand her, but she's quite real enough (classic Enneagram type 2 villain). I took issue only with her overly candid letters to her friend. Someone like Lady Susan should be a true believer in all of her own deceits, making it really difficult to come clean, even to a close friend.

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LibraryThing member wildeaboutoscar
Liked the letter based format but otherwise it bored me.
LibraryThing member LibraryCin
This story was written as letters between various characters. Lady Susan is a widow and is trying to match her daughter, Frederica, up with one man, but Frederica is in love with another.

I think I made an error in judgement in choosing the audio, as classics are already “iffy” for me (though I generally like Jane Austen) and audios are already harder to hold my attention, so I think it was a bad combination, as this one definitely didn't keep my attention. I had trouble through most of it figuring out who was related to whom and how (it was only close to the end that I figured most of that out). There was an introduction that said that it was unfinished, but there was a conclusion, so I'm not too sure what that's about. (Also, wikipedia says it was an “early complete work”.) Because I lost interest so much, at least the introduction told me the plot (although, again, near the end, I was “getting” some of it), but I think I missed what actually happened the end (based on what wikipedia tells me, anyway!).

Oh, the audio... I liked how the audio was done, initially. There are different people voicing different letters, depending who wrote them. I did (originally) like Catherine's narrator, particularly, but she got kind of whiny for me later on (though that, I believe, was when Catherine was “imitating” Lady Susan... but it went on and on!!). It also would have been nice to have narrators with English accents. Only the man who read the intro, conclusion and title for each letter had an English accent.
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A Public Domain Book

Original publication date

1794 (written)
1871 (1st published)


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