‘A Soirée with Lady Susan’ thank you!

Afternoon Dress fashion plate from Ladies Museum Monthly 1800Gentle Readers: Even though etiquette always prevailed during Jane Austen’s time, today I am always pleasantly surprised to receive a thoughtful thank you letter for anything I do here, so when Mandy N.’s cheerful note arrived thanking me for hosting ‘A Soirée with Lady Susan’ earlier this month, I was all astonishment. Also included was this beautiful vintage image of two Georgian era ladies in afternoon dresses from an 1800 Ladies Museum Monthly fashion plate, reminiscent of our two friends, Lady Susan and Mrs. Johnson in the novella perhaps! Mandy N. also kindly sent along her thoughts about the soiree and her experience. Here is a excerpt – the entire summation has been added to the Lady Susan page to help future readers. 

‘What a Woman she must be!’  Reginald de Courcy (Letter 4)  

The fun of our on-line group read was the interaction of Austen readers around the world, coming together to discuss ideas on Lady Susan. Our Soiree was a pleasant party; an opportunity to read Jane’s little gem and discover Lady Susan resources. Hostess Laurel Ann contributed her musings; whilst fans a-flutter, participants contributed conjecture and opinion on the letters. 

You can read the entire thank you letter here with my thanks to Mandy N. and all who participated. 

Cheers, Laurel Ann

‘A Soirée with Lady Susan’ Wrap Up: Giveaway Winners Announced!

A Soiree with Lady Susan, September 1-14, 2009

“Whether Lady Susan was or was not happy in her second choice, I do not see how it can ever be ascertained; for who would take her assurance of it on either side of the question?”  

Ah – how true! The “Mistress of deceit” would never allude to any misgivings on her part, (well maybe to her confidant Mrs. Johnson if they are ever on friendly terms again) nor would her malleable new husband utter a whisper of complaint. If Lady Susan treats him as cruelly as her daughter, he will be as intimidated and amenable to her wishes as Frederica was. What I enjoyed most about this story was Austen’s youthful exuberance and unguarded candor. By the time she would re-work her next novel Elinor and Marianne into Sense and Sensibility in 1811, she would have refined her touch and approached the subjects of courtship, money and social position in a witty but reproachful way. Never again would a villainess like Lady Susan not be given her due by the end. We are fortunate that Lady Susan still survives. It is indeed a window into Jane Austen’s teenage mind, and a great counterbalance to her later works. 

This is my third novel event here at Austenprose, and this time out I had some help from great guest bloggers who added their expertise and humor to entertain us. A big thank you to author’s Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway for their thoughts on Lady Susan and their new novel inspired by it, Lady Vernon and her Daughter, and Vic (Ms. Place) my co-blogger at Jane Austen Today and her own blog Jane Austen’s World for four great historical posts on Upper Seymour Street & Portman Square, and the Postal Service in 18th-century Britain. And of course, my thanks to all who read along and commented on the group read and other posts. It was a swell party! 

PRIZE WINNERS 

And now for the fun stuff! Here are all the winners of the 12 prizes. Congratulations to all, and many thanks to all who participated. 

Day 02 – Sep 02       NA, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition - Bluestocking

Day 05 – Sep 05       Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition – mystrygirl87

Day 06 – Sep 06       Lady Susan (Audio) – Janeen, Bloggin BB, & Susan

Day 07 – Sep 07       Lady Vernon and her Daughter – Laura’s Reviews   

Day 09 – Sep 09        Oxf. Illus. Jane Austen: Minor Works - Fatima

Day 12 – Sep 12         Jane Austen: The Complete Novels  – Jenny  

Day 13 – Sep 13         Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (Dover Pub) – Marie Burton, Melly S, Midnight Cowgirl, & Becky                      

Winners – Your prompt reply is greatly appreciated. You have one week to claim your prize! Please e-mail me with your full name and address to (austenprose at verizon dot net) before Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009. If I do not receive a response by a winner by that date, I will draw another name and continue until all of the prizes have a home to mail them to. So sorry to my international participants, but shipment is via USP media mail to US addresses only. Thanks again to everyone for your great contributions. Congrats to the winners, and enjoy!

Adieu, my dearest Susan, I wish matters did not go so perversely. That unlucky visit to Langford! but I dare say you did all for the best, and there is no defying destiny. Mrs. Johnson, Letter 38 

THE END

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen – A Review

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (Dover Publications) 2005Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan has never received much attention in comparison to her other six major novels. It is a short piece, only 70 pages in my edition of The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Minor Works containing forty-one letters and a conclusion. Scholars estimate that it was written between 1793-4 when the young author was in her late teens and represents her first attempts to write in the epistolary format popular with many authors of her time. In 1805, she transcribed a fair copy of the manuscript but did not pursue publication in her lifetime. The manuscript would remain unpublished until 54 years after her death with its inclusion in the appendix of  her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography of his aunt, A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1871. 

The story centers around its titular character, Lady Susan Vernon, a very recent widow in her mid thirties. Described by her sister-in-law Catherine Vernon as “delicately fair” possessing “an uncommon union of symmetry, brilliance,” these positive attributes may be the only compliments that she receives in the whole novel. There is more than a breath of scandal preceding Lady Susan’s arrival at her in-laws estate of Churchill. The gossip mill claims that while staying as a guest at Langford, she was evicted by its Mistress Mrs. Manwaring for engaging at the same time, the affections of two men who were “not at liberty to bestow them,” namely her husband, and the fiancé of her young sister-in-law. Nonplused, she moves on to her next residence the country estate of her deceased husband’s younger brother Charles Vernon and his wife Catherine. When word reaches Mrs. Vernon’s younger brother Reginald De Courcy that Lady Susan will be her houseguest, he is eager to meet the most “accomplished coquette in England” promptly arriving knowing full well her scandalous past. Her unprincipled artifice and its fallout can all be explained, and very cleverly. Possessing a command of the language that can “make black appear white,” she prides herself upon the pleasure of making a person predetermined to dislike her convert to her advocate. It is not long before Reginald falls into her net of deceit and under her romantic control, much to the displeasure of his family. Revolving around this “Mistress of deceit” is her terrified sixteen-year old daughter Frederica who she is attempting to marry off to a wealthy buffoon Sir James Martin, the elderly De Courcy parents who hear all the news of the infamous Lady Susan through their daughter Mrs. Vernon, and Lady Susan’s confidant, the equally unscrupulous Alicia Johnson married to a gouty man who in Lady Susan’s view is “too old to be agreeable, too young to die.” They are two peas in a pod, and through Lady Susan’s disclosure to her friend, we see her schemes, machinations, and truly captivating wicked nature. 

Outrageously fun and artfully melodramatic, Lady Susan is the sleeper novel of Jane Austen’s oeuvre whose greatest fault lies in its comparison to its young sisters. Since few novels can surpass or equal Miss Austen’s masterpieces, Lady Susan should be accepted for what it is – a charming, highly amusing piece by an author in the making who not only presents us with interesting and provocative characters, but reveals her early understanding of social machinations and exquisite language. Its biggest challenge appears to be in the limitations of the epistolary format where the narrative is revealed through one person’s perspective and then the other’s reaction and reply, not allowing for the energy of direct dialogue or much description of the scene or surroundings. Given its shortcomings it is still a glistening jewel; smart, funny, and intriguing wicked. 

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen
Dover Publications (2005)
Trade paperback (80) pages
ISBN: 978-0486444079

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Day 13 Giveaway 

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (Dover Publications) 2005. 

Leave a comment by midnight PT on Sunday, September 13th to qualify for a free drawing on September 14th for one of four copies of the Dover Publications edition of Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (US residents only) 

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 14 – Sep 14          LS Wrap up & Giveaway announcement

Lady Susan: Group Read Letters 34-41: Summary, Musings & Discussion: Day Twelve Giveaway

Jane Austen: The Complete Novels (Gramercy Books) 2007I write only to bid you farewell, the spell is removed; I see you as you are…You know how I have loved you; you can intimately judge of my present feelings, but I am not so weak as to find indulgence in describing them to a woman who will glory in having excited their anguish, but whose affection they have never been able to gain. Reginald De Courcy Letter 34

Quick Synopsis

Reginald De Courcy to Lady Susan severing their relationship. Lady Susan to Reginald De Courcy astonished, requesting an explanation. Reginald De Courcy to Lady Susan irritated, revealing his knowledge of Manwaring. Lady Susan to Reginald De Courcy satisfied, wishing him peace. Mrs. Johnson to Lady Susan grieved but not surprised, revealing she must beak off their friendship. Lady Susan to Mrs. Johnson understanding her situation, and happy that Manwaring is more attentive than ever. Lady De Courcy to Mrs. Vernon announcing Reginald’s return and break with Lady Susan forever. She hopes for an alliance for him with Frederica. Mrs. Vernon to Lady De Courcy surprised and suspicious. Lady Susan takes Frederica back to town. The conclusion, Frederica returns to them and Lady Susan marries.

Musings

The spell is broken. Reginald knows all about Lady Susan’s antics at Langford, her continued affair with Manwaring during their own romance, and wants nothing more to do with her. He finally acknowledges and understands her true nature. Took him long enough! I’m not sure if his slowness should be attributed to his gullibility or to her “perverted abilities.” Her astonished reaction to his rejection is priceless. “What can you now have heard to stagger your esteem for me? Have I ever had a concealment from you?” This is a turning point in the novel as her lies and manipulations begin to unravel. Her defense is to act innocent and demand more detail. This is a classic chronic liar behavior. Who me? She knows that her power lies in her ability to use persuasive language to change other people’s opinions to her advantage. She also knows that her plight will be so much more affective in person and commands his immediate appearance. Here is a skilled tactician moving in for the kill! In his first assertive action, Reginald wisely resists her command, maintaining his objectivity by responding by letter, distancing himself from her bewitching powers.

After such a discovery as this, you will scarcely affect further wonder at my meaning in bidding you adieu. My understanding is at length restored, and teaches no less to abhor the artifices which had subdued me than to despise myself for the weakness on which their strength was founded. Reginald De Courcy Letter 36

So, he is beating himself up a bit for being duped. But to chastise himself as much as her? No! He was a victim and she the villain. His male ego is just smarting. No one likes to be deceived, manipulated, and loved all in one breath! I will admit though, that I was quite surprised by her reply to his explanation. Honestly, I thought she would escalate the drama one more notch and show up on his doorstep. Knowing her ego and vindictive nature I expected no less. When she writes back and meekly responds “I am satisfied, and will trouble you no more when these few lines are dismissed” I am astonished, not only by her choice to retreat, but of Austen’s lost opportunity for a great scene of their one last go round. Ah well. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, but that would be how I would have written it. On the other hand, Mrs. Johnson’s reaction to the news is hilarious and I applaud Austen for her twisted humor.

I am grieved, though I cannot be astonished at your rupture with Mr. De Courcy…Be assured that I partake in all your feelings, and do not be angry if I say that our intercourse, even by letter, must soon be given up. Mrs. Johnson Letter 38

Alicia Johnson may be an even more skillful viper than Lady Susan! In one sentence she nonchalantly knocks the wind out of Lady Susan’s sails by not going on and on about her distress over her friend’s loss, and then, severs their association because of her husband’s opinon? When did he every stop her from doing what she wanted behind his back? LOL, and then, she offers up more gossip to throw salt in her friends wounds. Miss Manwaring is back in Town and on the hunt for Sir James Martin so she better hop to and snag him for herself, and, she is delighted with Mr. De Courcy! What? The man who just dumped her best friend?. “One cannot help loving him at first sight.” Too much. What happened to honor among thieves? Lady Susan’s reaction is even more astonishing. She understands her predicament with her friend’s husband completely. Manwaring is more attentive of her than ever, and she has never been happier in her life. Phony!

I never was more at ease, or better satisfied with myself and everything about me than at the present hour. Your husband I abhor, Reginald I despise, and I am secure of never seeing either again. Lady Susan Letter 39

How duplicitous can one be? In the past, Lady Susan had vented all her displeasure and shared her schemes with her confidant Alicia. Now that Alicia has severed their relationship, she is out of the honesty loop, and everything is sunshine and syllabub. And to top it off, she wants to continue the friendship? Impossible! Here is a woman who must have the last power move as she sends Alicia a subliminal warning by admonishment everyone who has gotten in her way. “I am tired of submitting my will to the caprices of others; of resigning my own judgment in deference to those to whom I owe no duty, and for whom I feel no respect.” Oh, and by-the-way, she will always be her friend. Whoa!

Frederica runs much in my thoughts, and when Reginald has recovered his usual good spirits (as I trust he soon will) we will try to rob him of his heart once more, and I am full of hopes of seeing their hands joined at no great distance. Lady De Courcy Letter 40

Meanwhile, back at the ranch palatial mansion, Lady De Courcy is overjoyed with Reginald’s return and admission that Lady Susan has been vanquished. There is hope for an alliance with dear Frederica after all. Now the challenge for Catherine Vernon is to get her away from her mother who has taken her back to London on the pretext of more education. In actuality, Lady Susan is determined that she complete the one scheme that is still in play and under her total control. “Frederica shall be Sir James’s wife before she quits my house, and she may whimper, and the Vernon’s may storm, I regard them not.” Frederica regretfully leaves Churchill with her mother, and Mrs. Vernon is not hopeful of a match for her with Reginald. Interestingly, Austen changes format at this point and the denouement is not in letter format, but as a combination of first and third person narrative. A bit confusing, but still affective for me. Scholars have speculated that because of the change of style and format that the ending was written as an afterthought in 1805 when Austen transcribed a copy of the manuscript.

This correspondence, by a meeting between some of the parties, and a separation between the others, could not, to the great detriment of the Post Office revenue, be continued any longer.  The Conclusion

Regardless, it does rap up the story quite neatly. Determined to get Frederica away from her mother and back to Churchill, Mr. and Mrs. Vernon travel to London for a visit. Catherine’s challenge is to outplay the “Mistress of deceit.” No easy task. Things look bleak since Lady Susan is playing the bountiful mother; only concerned for the welfare and improvement of her daughter. Mrs. Vernon was surprised and incredulous at Lady Susan’s new maternal instincts, fearing greater difficulty in accomplishing her plans, until Lady Susan drops a hint of concern for Frederica’s health. London does not seem to agree with her. Mrs. Vernon proposed her niece’s return to the country which Lady Susan graciously declined. (More posturing here by the master manipulator) Mrs. Vernon perseveres, and Lady Susan continues to resist for several days until the alarm of influenza alters her consent.

Frederica was therefore fixed in the family of her uncle and aunt till such time as Reginald De Courcy could be talked, flattered, and finessed into an affection for her which, allowing leisure for the conquest of his attachment to her mother, for his abjuring all future attachments, and detesting the sex, might be reasonably looked for in the course of a twelvemonth. The Conclusion

Three weeks after Frederica’s arrival at Churchill, her mother announces her engagement to Sir James Martin. Lady Susan’s choice of husband was a surprise, but not a bad decision for her financially. We know that Sir James’ personality is amenable and malleable, which will suit her freedom, but she so much admitted that he was a “bit of a rattle.” His money will certainly support her in the style and elegance she craves. On the downside, she is a highly intelligent woman, and he quite dull, so the conversation at dinner will be trying. If Lady Susan was unhappy in her second choice, it would be impossible to know. Would a woman with her power of deception ever admit it? Unlikely not. However, I do agree with the narrator’s conclusion about her new husband.

Sir James may seem to have drawn a harder lot than mere folly merited; I leave him, therefore, to all the pity that anybody can give him. The Conclusion

And what of the other two woman who Lady Susan’s dalliances have so injured? Mrs. Manwaring is unhappily separated from her husband and living with her guardian Mr. Johnson and his wife Alicia. I can not think that the arrangement can be too joyful to be in a house with a gouty old man, and Lady Susan’s evil twin. Never-the-less, Miss Manwaring does receive some pity from the narrator after she hotly pursues Sir James spending two years allowance on clothes, only to be “defrauded of her due by a woman ten years older than herself.”

As the novel concluded, I too was left almost in silence. “It was the greatest stretch of forbearance I could practise.

THE END

Thanks to all who participated in the group read. Your comments added greatly to my enjoyment of this novel and stand as testament of your admiration to a great author and one of her works.

Further reading

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Day 12 Giveaway

Jane Austen: The Complete Novels, (Gramercy Books) Illustrated by Hugh Thomson (2007) including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Lady Susan.

Leave a comment by September 13th to qualify for the free drawing on September 14th for one copy of the Gramercy Books edition of Jane Austen: The Complete Novels  (US residents only)

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 13 – Sep 13       LS Book Review
Day 14 – Sep 14       LS Wrap up & Giveaway announcement

 

© 2009 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

A Soirée with Lady Susan: The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post

The old General Post Office in Lombard Street, London

This correspondence, by a meeting between some of the parties, and a separation between the others, could not, to the great detriment of the Post Office revenue, be continued any longer. The Narrator, The Conclusion, Lady Susan

The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post 

At Jane Austen’s World

As the characters in Jane Austen’s epistolary novella Lady Susan send each other a flurry of letters, I was curious how they got to their destinations and how long it would take to send a letter from the Vernon’s residence at Churchill 30 miles to London. Vic (Ms Place) of Jane Austen’s World blog can always answer all my historical questions, and has kindly written about the Postal Service in Britain as a three part series:  1) Letters and the Penny-Post, 2) Post Roads and Post Boys, and 3) John Palmer and the Royal Mail Coach. 

You can enjoy the first segement, The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post, and the next two will follow shortly. Thanks Vic for keeping us so well informed about all things Georgian & Regency. 

Part 2 – The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Post Roads and Post-Boys

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 12 – Sep 12      LS Group Read – Letters 34-41 & Concl.
Day 13 – Sep 13      LS Book Review
Day 14 – Sep 14      LS Wrap-up & Giveaway winners