Welcome to the Austen Authors Read-Along! Alexa, Rebecca, Leenie and myself are busily buttering the virtual scones and pouring the tea, hoping you might join us for a spot of gossip. We thought we might start with Lady Susan, one of those Austen characters we love to hate – perhaps even more than most.
If anything, Lady Susan is the perfect anti-heroine. Unashamedly selfish, she pursues her own interests and pleasures with no care for anybody else’s feelings. She preys on the weaknesses of those around her, from her powerless and persecuted daughter to as many gentlemen as she can bewitch (and who really should have known better). Even other people’s kindness is something to exploit – yet another weakness she uses and despises.
Anyone who has devoured Jane Austen’s six full-size novels might be rather surprised that ‘Lady Susan’ is thought to have been written in the mid-1790s, at around the same time as the first drafts of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘First Impressions’.
But Lady Susan is a far cry from the Dashwood and Bennet young ladies. First of all, she is not young, at least not by 1790s standards. Her sister-in-law supposes her in her mid-thirties. But she is beautiful, devilishly clever and utterly unscrupulous. A predator. Many of the men she charms are noticeably younger than she is. Some, like Mr de Courcy, approach her with misplaced confidence in their own ability to withstand her powers – and make utter fools of themselves in the process. Others go further and disregard their duties to their wives or fiancées as they fall under Lady Susan’s spell.
Personally, I can’t help thinking that Jane Austen must have had a great time writing her. We know she had a wicked sense of humour, which comes across without restraint in some of her letters to her sister. How entertaining it must have been to write a heroine like Lady Susan, who laughs at everyone as she pursues her aims. Not a good-natured amusement, like Elizabeth Bennet’s, but cold-hearted mockery – at least until most of her schemes are foiled.
But enough with the drum-roll. Come and read the letters – the first five to begin with – to see Jane Austen at her wicked best as she writes Lady Susan.
Happy reading and join us at Austen Authors for a chat. Hope to see you there!
Lady Susan Vernon to Mr. Vernon
MY DEAR BROTHER,–I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of profiting by your kind invitation when we last parted of spending some weeks with you at Churchhill, and, therefore, if quite convenient to you and Mrs. Vernon to receive me at present, I shall hope within a few days to be introduced to a sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with. My kind friends here are most affectionately urgent with me to prolong my stay, but their hospitable and cheerful dispositions lead them too much into society for my present situation and state of mind; and I impatiently look forward to the hour when I shall be admitted into Your delightful retirement.
I long to be made known to your dear little children, in whose hearts I shall be very eager to secure an interest. I shall soon have need for all my fortitude, as I am on the point of separation from my own daughter. The long illness of her dear father prevented my paying her that attention which duty and affection equally dictated, and I have too much reason to fear that the governess to whose care I consigned her was unequal to the charge. I have therefore resolved on placing her at one of the best private schools in town, where I shall have an opportunity of leaving her myself in my way to you. I am determined, you see, not to be denied admittance at Churchhill …
Continue reading Lady Susan at The Writer’s Block: http://austenauthors.net/writers-block/lady-susan/letters-1-5/