I was browsing in a local bookstore last year when I came across this collection of Austen’s novels for $20. I had only read Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion at the time. I’ve added Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Lady Susan to that list. (I do admit that I remember next to nothing about S&S. What happened?)
Susan was a surprise after getting to know Elizabeth, Anne, Elinor, Fanny, and Emma. Those women have flaws to be sure, but they also have redeeming qualities.
This lady has none.
Lady Susan is a short novel told through a series of letters between the characters. Lady Susan Vernon is recently widowed and pushes herself onto her brother-in-law’s family (the Vernons) after leaving behind a scandalous affair in the city. Catherine, her sister-in-law, doesn’t like Susan for her having tried to prevent her marriage to Charles. Catherine sees through Susan’s ingratiations into her true character – a lying, manipulative bitch. Catherine puts up with her for the sake of family until her brother Reginald begins to fall under Susan’s spell.
Reginald believes Susan’s spin on her relationship with a married man in the home she had previously been staying. Catherine is worried that he’ll marry Susan. Letters fly back and forth between Catherine and her mother and between Susan and her friend in town (and a few others).
We first learn of Susan’s daughter through her mother’s letters. Susan spares no kind word in her descriptions. In reality Frederica Susanna is a sweet, shy girl that Catherine learns to love after she is expelled from her school for trying to run away. Susan is forcing an unwanted marriage on her daughter. Catherine tries to help Frederica any way she can while also trying to keep her brother out of Susan’s web.
This was a fun, quick read. Susan’s letters were deliciously bitchy, especially in comparison to Catherine’s socially proper letters – but she got her digs in, too. I also enjoyed this novel much more than I expected given the epistolary style, though Austen did break into an informal narrative style in the end. It was as if Jane were personally giving me the gossip complete with a fabulous parting line that left me with an audible “Ha!”
**Click here to see my review on Pajiba and reader comments.