Jane Austen Lady Susan Analysis Essay

"Lady Susan" is an epistolary novel whose eponymous anti-heroine, unlike the women featured in Austen's other works, is bad to the bone. When the book opens, Lady Susan, a stunningly beautiful widow in her upper thirties, has just been sent packing from the home of a family she had spent some months with, having been discovered carrying on a flagrant affair with the husband of the family, right under his wife's nose. She takes refuge with her kind-hearted brother and his sensible wife, who sees through Lady Susan from the day she enters the house and can't wait to see her leave. Also in the home are Lady Susan's teenage daughter, who has been expelled from boarding school after attempting to run away so that she won't be forced into marrying the rich, fatuous nobleman her mother has picked out for her; and the younger brother of Lady Susan's sister-in-law, who has heard intimations about Lady Susan's unsavory reputation; in retaliation for his initial disdain, Lady Susan sets out to captivate him and succeeds so well that she has him on the brink of proposing marriage to her, despite the fact that he is 12 years younger than she is, much to the alarm of his family. It looks as though he is about to fall into her clutches, when a chance meeting between him and the wife of Lady Susan's lover blows all Lady Susan's machinations, as well as her reputation, to smithereens. Lady Susan, to save what is left of her honor, ends up marrying the rich, fatuous nobleman she intended for her daughter; Jane Austen slyly hints that Lady Susan and her married lover will continue their affair under the noses of both their spouses. The book's ending is in a narrative style that appears simply tacked on, as if Austen got tired of both the story and the epistolary style she wrote it in; but on the whole, it's an enjoyable read, interesting mostly because it is so different in style and content from the books we're familiar with.

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Recent Forum Posts on Lady Susan

Austen's Attempt at Epistolary

Austen is a talented writer in many respects, some can even argue that she is amongst the English novelist. However, I don't believe that Lady Susan falls into this discussion, only in the sense that her utilization of the popular eighteenth century novel form was fairly unsuccessful. What the letter form does uniquely is provide the reader with an interesting perspective on the primary letter writer, generally the protagonist. The problem with Lady Susan is that its incorporation of many different character voices in such a short novel, which seemingly blends most of the characters traits together. In a way all the male and female resemble each other, except for Lady Susan herself. It even becomes difficult to distinguish the characters apart, because of how alike their speech and actions are. Lady Susan is the only character with a recognizable voice, and that is merely to serve Austen's plot for the novel. I will even go as far as to conjecture that Austen herself notices this, and remedies this sort of problem by developing free indirect discourse, in which the narrator provides personal insight into a particular character.

Posted By Babak Movahed at Tue 21 Dec 2010, 4:00 AM in Lady Susan || 2 Replies

The character Lady Susan

I read the book Lady Susan on the train back home after visiting my family during the holidays, and I liked the book, but at the same time I was annoyed by the character Lady Susan. How would you describe her character and the way she acts? How do you feel about her as a character?

Posted By thelastmelon at Fri 28 Dec 2007, 4:01 PM in Lady Susan || 2 Replies

No Subject

hello everybody! I'm doing my thesis on Jane Austen and the main subject is Lady Susan, but I try to analize also the connection between Jane Austen and the vogue of the eighteenth century of epistolary fiction. I think Lady Susan is the perfect heroine of this period and of this literary genre. I need a help in analyzing Jane Austen's style in this story and I thank everybody who could help me.

Posted By Unregistered at Tue 24 May 2005, 5:03 PM in Lady Susan || 2 Replies

Post a New Comment/Question on Lady Susan

Letter 1 – Lady Susan Vernon to Mr. Vernon

Lady Susan writes from Langford to her brother Mr. Vernon and accepts his invitation to stay at Churchill. Even though her friends with whom she is staying urge her to prolong her stay, she finds them too social for her present state of mind. She longs to become better acquainted with her sister (his wife) and the children. On her way, she will deposit her daughter Frederica in one of the best private schools in London. She fears that her education has been lacking because of her own attentions to her husband’s long illness and a governess not equal to the charge.

Letter 2 – Lady Susan Vernon to Mrs. Johnson

Lady Susan writes from Langford to her confidant Alicia Johnson in London. Even after being discreet since her arrival three months ago and admitting no ones attentions but Manwaring, and flirting with Sir James Martin only to detach him away from Miss Manwaring for her daughter, all the females in the house are against her. Sir James made proposals to Lady Susan for her daughter, but Frederica is violently opposed to the match. She repents not marrying him herself. He is contemptibly weak and she a romantic. Riches alone will not satisfy her. Sir James departs, Maria is incensed, and Mrs. Manwaring in a jealous temper threatens to appeal to her guardian (Mr. Johnson) who is at present not speaking to her because of her marriage to Manwaring. The whole house is at war. She realizes that she is still out of favor with Mr. Johnson, a respectable man, remarking that the slight looks awkward since she is his wife is her intimate friend. She is only staying briefly in Town, to drop off her daughter in a private school and then on to Churchill, “that insupportable spot, a country village” her last resort.

Letter 3 – Mrs. Vernon to Lady De Courcy

Catherine Vernon writes from Churchill to her mother. She relays news of Lady Susan’s immediate arrival for an indefinite stay. She can not account her departure from Langford, since its elegant and expensive style suited her, and her particular attachment to Mr. Manwaring. Mr. Vernon was kind to her when her husband died, even though Lady Susan’s behavior had been so “inexcusably artful and ungenerous since our marriage.” Even though she is his brother’s widow and in narrow circumstances, she does not understand his pressing invitation for her to stay at Churchill. In as much as Lady Susan was grief stricken and contrite to her husband, she is unconvinced of her sincerity but suspicious of her reasons for the visit. “I am not quite weak enough to suppose a woman who has behaved with inattention, if not with unkindness, to her own child, should be attached to any of mine.

Letter 4 – Mr. De Courcy to Mrs. Vernon

Reginald writes from Parklands to his sister congratulating her on receiving the most accomplished coquette in England into their home. He relays information on her stay at Langford, revealing that 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.” Her behavior to Mr. Manwaring gave “jealousy and wretchedness” to his wife and her flirtations with another man deprived Miss Manwaring of the lover. This news he had on good authority from Mr. Smith fresh from a visit near Langford. He is captivated and longs to meet the famous woman whose scandalous reputation and “bewitching powers” precede her, all without the charm of youth. He is glad that her daughter is not staying with them because Mr. Smith says she is equally dull and proud. He ascertains that Lady Susan “possesses a degree of captivating deceit which it must be pleasing to witness and detect” and says he will be there very soon.

Letter 5 – Lady Susan Vernon to Mrs. Johnson

Lady Susan writes from Churchill to her friend Alicia in London rejoicing in her successful deception of her husband. “Since he will be stubborn, he must be tricked.” She has arrived safely at Churchill but is wary of Mrs. Vernon not being prepossessed in her favor and convinced she does not like her. She thinks she holds a grudge for objecting to her marriage to Charles six years prior. She now regrets not allowing Charles to buy Vernon Castle. But the sale transpired at exactly the same time as his marriage, and her husband’s dignity would be lessened by his younger brothers purchase. She convinced him to sell elsewhere and thinks that’s why Mrs. Vernon has a vindictive spirit. “Where there is a disposition to dislike, a motive will never be wanting.”  In money matters Charles is generous and easily imposed upon. The house is a good one. “everything announces plenty and elegance” Charles is rich, he rolls in money, but does not know what to do with it. They keep little company and rarely go to Town. “We shall be as stupid as possible.”  She will win her sister-in-law through the children. She misses Manwaring and received a dismal letter from him complaining of his wife and sister and the cruelty of his fate. She will write to him under cover through Alicia.

Letter 6 – Mrs. Vernon to Mr. De Courcy

Catherine Vernon writes from Churchill to her brother Reginald. She has seen the “dangerous creature.” Lady Susan is excessively pretty. She looks 25, but is actually ten years older. “[S]he possesses an uncommon union of symmetry, brilliancy, and grace.”  Her address was so affectionate that if she did not know how unpleasant she could be from her experience with her before she married Charles, she could call her an attached friend. However, she believes an impudent address equals an impudent mind. She is sweet, mild, clever and agreeable and can make black appear white. Lady Susan speaks of her daughter with tenderness and anxiety, lamenting the unavoidable neglect of her education. She is doubtful of this, recollecting how frequently Lady Susan was in Town and left her daughter with servants. Mr. Vernon’s generous temper has been charmed into believing her tale of having the choice to leave Langford. She wonders why she should leave a place better suited to her “mode of life” compared to which she must now submit.  She doubts his friend Mr. Smith’s story regarding Mrs. Manwaring being jealous and wretched over Lady Susan’s attentions to her husband because she writes to her frequently. It is hard to believe that two men could be grossly deceived by her at once.

Letter 7 – Lady Susan Vernon to Mrs. Johnson

Lady Susan writes from Churchill to her friend Alicia in London. She asks her friend not to waste her precious time entertaining her daughter Frederica. “She is a stupid girl, and has nothing to recommend her.” She wants her instead to learn to play and sign with taste and assurance, though she does not believe in the in current fashion of education of all languages, arts and sciences. “It will gain a woman some applause, but will not add one lover to her list–grace and manner, after all, are of the greatest importance.”  She hopes to see her married to Sir James within a twelvemonth. She wishes her to find the situation at school as unpleasant as possible. She is confident that Sir James will marry her. She asks her friend to promote the match when she sees him and credits herself for snagging him for her daughter. Some mothers would insist that their daughters marry whom they say immediately, but she will instead make thing so miserable for her that she will succumb. Churchill is very dull, but Mrs. Vernon’s brother Reginald has arrived and promises some amusement. There is a sauciness about him which interests her which she will teach him to correct. “There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person predetermined to dislike acknowledge one’s superiority.” It shall be her task to humble the pride of the De Courcys, convince Mrs. Vernon that her warnings to her brother are in vain, and persuade him that she has been maligned.

Letter 8 – Mrs. Vernon to Lady De Courcy

Catherine writes from Churchill to her mother. She must not expect her son Reginald back for some time as the hunting is good. Lady Susan has contrived in a fortnight to make her brother like her, convinced that he has extended his stay not for hunting, but because of his fascination for her. She is angered by the artifice of this “unprincipled woman” whose “dangerous abilities” can change Reginald’s opinion of her which was decidedly against her upon arrival. Even though they had an account of Lady Susan’s abhorrent behavior at Langford, her actions have been calculated to dispel it, and she detects not the smallest impropriety. Nothing of “vanity, of pretension, of levity” and she is astonished. He blames the badness of her disposition and errors on “her neglected education and early marriage.” His tendency to forgive is vexing and she hates to see him duped.

Letter 9 – Mrs. Johnson to Lady S. Vernon 

Alicia writes from Edward Street to her friend Lady Susan. She congratulates her on Reginald De Courcy’s arrival and advises her to marry him. His father’s estate is extensive and he is infirmed and will not last much longer. Manwaring will storm of course but she will pacify him as always. She has entertained Sir James Martin and promoted Frederica, “he is so far from having forgotten you, that I am sure he would marry either of you with pleasure.” She scolded him for his attentions to Maria Manwaring, and he brushed it off as a joke. They laughed at her disappointment.

Letter 10 – Lady Susan Vernon to Mrs. Johnson

Lady Susan writes from Churchill to her friend Alicia in London. She thanks her for her advice to marry De Courcy, but will not take it because she is not in want of money and until his father’s death would not benefit from the match. She admits vanity in the triumph of converting De Courcy, a mind prejudiced against her. She sees his sisters concerns over their progress through the good opinions of her by her brother but she will do nothing to counteract her. “It has been delightful to me to watch his advances towards intimacy.” She acted less like a coquette than in all of her life even though her desire for dominion has never been more decided. She has subdued him by “sentiment and serious conversation,” making him at least half in love with her without commonplace flirtation. Even though Mrs. Vernon suspects revenge in her motives with her brother, let her think what she chooses. “I have never yet found that the advice of a sister could prevent a young man’s being in love if he chose.” Lady Susan claims it will never be more than a platonic friendship because of Manwaring and she could not like a man when he had thought so meanly of her. He is however a nice distraction from the long hours of trying to overcome her sister-in-laws reserve and the insipid talk of her husband. Her account of Sir James in encouraging and she will tell Frederica soon.

Letter 11 – Mrs. Vernon to Lady De Courcy

Catherine writes from Churchill to her mother. She grows uneasy for Lady Susan’s influence over Reginald, “she has contrived by the most artful coquetry to subdue his judgment to her own purposes.” She is alarmed at the rapid advancement of their friendship but does not suppose Lady Susan’s plans extend to marriage. She wishes her mother could call Reginald back home. He is not inclined to leave even though she has dropped hints of their father’s health. Her power over him is boundless. He forgave her conduct and now justifies it. The rumors are now a “scandalous invention” regretting his previous belief. She grieves her ever entering her house. She was uneasy of her arrival, but not because of her concern for Reginald. She anticipated a disagreeable friendship between them, but did not suspect that her brother would be in danger of being bewitched by a woman whose “principles she was so well acquainted, and whose character he so heartily despised.

© 2009 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

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