And here we are, at the conclusion of my highly enjoyable read-through of the complete works of Jane Austen. The final story in my novel is apparently the one that Austen wrote first but published last–or to be more accurate, it was published posthumously. In any event, the epistolary Lady Susan is a quick, funny, light but ultimately satisfying conclusion to my survey of this giant of English literature.
Or giantess. Whatever.
Lady Susan details the foibles of the recently widowed Susan Vernon and her machinations. Quite what she’s aiming at, Lady Susan herself doesn’t seem to know, save that (a) she thinks very little of her sixteen-year-old daughter Frederica, and (b) she is a shameless flirt.
That’s right, Lady Susan is the early 19th-century British equivalent of a thot. She constantly craves attention and validation for her fading beauty and feminine wiles, wants to be catered to, and has a read supply of thirsty beta orbiters happy to oblige. If social media had been around in her day, Lady Susan would have been an absolute queen of it.
If you rankle at my use of modern-day Internet terminology, know that I use it only to underscore the fact that socio-sexual dynamics have changed so very little across time.
And thinking in these terms makes Lady Susan all the more hilarious.So the story is chock-full of Lady Susan flirting with married men, flirting with younger men, flirting with betrothed men, and trying to match her daughter up with a thoroughly unserious young man that Frederica cannot stand. Our heroine(?) spends most of her time driving her brother- and sister-in-law crazy, and even ruins a few relationships to boot. It’s all quite comical and further demonstrates that, even this early in her writing career, Jane Austen has an ear for dialogue and jokes, and understood men and women and how we relate to each other.
Of course, there is the historically interesting part of Lady Susan, present in all of her works, and that is the role of women in her milieu and how marriage was quite often the only way for them to achieve social status. Lost in this is the fact that the same applies to men, as any reader of Austen’s canon will know.
Basically, society wasn’t that mobile in early 19th-century England for anyone, but women had a tougher go of it.
Is Lady Susan worth reading? Of course it is. It is told through letters, which sounds annoying but is not. This method allows the story to move briskly and provides multiple viewpoints of the same incidents, giving he reader insight into each character’s personality and letting them be the judge of whom to trust.
Lady Susan is not “weighty” or “deep,” but it’s fun. And it’s Jane Austen, for God’s sake, so of course I recommend it.
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