Review: Lady Susan

Title: Lady Susan
Jane Austen
Literary Fiction / Classic
Published Date: 1871 (Written in 1794)
Why I wanted to read it: I am reading the book as part of Austen in August, but I’ve wanted to read more of Jane Austen’s work since reading Pride and Prejudice years ago.

Overview (Barnes and Noble):

Beautiful, flirtatious, and recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon seeks an advantageous second marriage for herself, while attempting to push her daughter into a dismal match. A magnificently crafted novel of Regency manners and mores that will delight Austen enthusiasts with its wit and elegant expression.

As with Love and Freindship, Austen presents Lady Susan in epistolary form. While I’m at times skeptical of an entire work being written that way, I find it necessary in this case due to the fact that Susan tends to say one thing and mean another, and it’s oftentimes easier to lie and manipulate in letter form than in person. It also helps that this is a shorter piece. Had it been a full-length novel, I think I would have grown tired of the form after a while.

Always dedicated to her characters, Austen succeeds once more with characterization. I feel a connection to certain characters simply by reading their letters, and I manage to identify what sort of person they are individually without having several pages dedicated to description. For example, I sympathize with Frederica throughout this piece due to the way she presents herself through letters. Perhaps she does misbehave, but for good reason. You want to root for her and have her taken from her mother’s controlling grasp and place her with a decent family, or at least I do.

Austen uses letters in her novels to present a turning point or explanation that will greatly impact not only the characters but the general plot as well. The letters in Lady Susan each serve their purpose brilliantly. Whether it’s mindless gossip or the declaration of intent, the letters move the characters from one situation to the next resolution.

I have no doubt that Susan is indeed a coquette who seeks personal gain and pleasure. She uses any means to obtain a satisfactory life while working to place her daughter in the arms of a man, whether or not Frederica likes it. Using manipulation, flirtation, and pity to achieve her goals, Susan opposes Austen’s typical heroine description. In this case, the title of “Lady” is ironic.

Favorite Character
When the heroine of the story is really an anti-heroine, and the gentleman hero I tend to fall for is absent, I must turn elsewhere to find my favorite character. Catherine Vernon is constantly attempting to expose Susan as a terrible mother and insufferable flirt. While most meddling women in Austen’s novels annoy me, Catherine is acting with good intentions. Sure, she simply doesn’t like Susan and wants her out of her life, but she also wants to help Frederica and keep her own brother from falling for a coquette.

Favorite Quotes

Facts are such horrid things!

She talks too well to feel so very deeply.

Where there is a disposition to dislike, a motive will never be wanting.


Discussion Question
How do you feel about Austen using an anti-heroine as the protagonist?
Epistolary novels…yay or nay?


6 thoughts on “Review: Lady Susan

  1. I loved the collection you’re reading. I thought they were quite scandalous actually and it made me laugh to think about her writing those and then becoming more famous for her later ‘more tame’ works. I’m a give or take on Epistolary novels, I’m glad Austen didn’t stick with it, but I feel that Anne Bronte did a good job with them as does Alice Walker in The Color Purple. I think it all just depends on the characters and I agree with what you wrote about the lying through a letter.


    • Thanks for the comment! I agree that it depends on the characters with epistolary novels. I tend to ramble when I write letters normally, so I don’t think I could personally pull it off with a novel, for example. If the writer can get to the point as they would with other forms of writing, I think it works.


  2. Lady Susan is the first story I’ve read that was written up as a collection of letters. It took me a few letters before I could get into the “flow” of reading. I agree that Catherine Vernon is the heroine of the story, perhaps Frederica is simply too young (and timid) to rebel against her conniving mother. Austen put an end to the story at just the right moment; I’m not sure I could’ve taken much more of this epistolary form!


  3. Pingback: Weekly Round-up for September 4, 2012 « The Classics Club

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