Lady Susan: Group Read Letters 12-22: Summary, Musings & Discussion

Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition (Penguin Classics) 2003Her neglect of her husband, her encouragement of other men, her extravagance and dissipation, were so gross and notorious that no one could be ignorant of them at the time, nor can now have forgotten them. Sir Reginald De Courcy (Letter 11)


Sir Reginald De Courcy writes to his son alarmed by his serious attachment to Lady Susan, offers advice, and asks for an explanation. Lady De Courcy writes to her daughter vexed by the distress and her sons reply. Reginald responds to his father, denies his intention to marry, and defends acquisitions against Lady Susan. Catherine Vernon writes to her mother of Frederica’s failed run-away from school, Lady Susan’s distress, and Reginald’s continued support of her. Lady Susan writes to Alicia provoked by that “horrid girl’s” attempt at running away, irritated by Reginald’s need to know every detail, and still prefers the superior Manwaring. Catherine Vernon writes to her mother of Frederica’s arrival, Lady Susan’s duplicity, and Reginald’s belief that she is a wonderful mother. Catherine Vernon writes again to her mother noticing Frederica fondness of Reginald and thinks she would make a good daughter-in-law. Lady Susan writes to Alicia disclosing Frederica ran away after reading her letter with plans for her to marry, but now she has fallen in love with Reginald. Catherine Vernon writes to her mother of the unannounced arrival of Sir James Martin, its affect on Frederica, and Lady Susan’s dubious offer of friendship.  Frederica Vernon writes to Reginald asking for his help in dissuading her mother of her plan for her marriage. Lady Susan writes to Alicia enraged by Sir James’s arrival, Frederica’s impudence, and Reginald’s incredulity in challenging her decision for her daughter.


When a son receives a letter from his father playing the guilt card, you know that matters have turned very serious. It appears that Catherine Vernon’s letter intended only for her mother’s eyes makes its way to her father Sir Reginald under dubious device of his wife feigning a cold. Hmm? Clever woman! Even though her intension was to write to her son directly about her concerns of his serious attachment to Lady Susan, having his father do it would be so much more affective – and it was. Reginald’s immediate response to his father shows his concern for his family and his reputation, but most importantly, his desire to defend Lady Susan against slanderous gossip.

I know that Lady Susan in coming to Churchill was governed only by the most honourable and amiable intentions; her prudence and economy are exemplary, her regard for Mr. Vernon equal even to his deserts; and her wish of obtaining my sister’s good opinion merits a better return than it has received. Reginald De Courcy, (Letter 14)

The affect of the letter appeases his father, but the women in the family, his sister and mother, are not so well satisfied. Lady Susan gives a plausible account of her behavior, and Reginald claims to have no intension of marriage, now, but who knows, he may in “three months hence.”  Their concern soon changes from Reginald to Frederica Vernon who has run away from school. The reasons are unknown to the Vernon’s. Catherine Vernon is only witness to Lady Susan’s distress and claims that Frederica is a perverse girl. She is no dupe, unlike her brother, and remembers that Frederica has been sadly neglected which Lady Susan conveniently forgets. As we see Lady Susan through Catherine’s eyes, her instincts and assumptions often turn out true. She tries to be politically correct and give her the benefit of the doubt, but always throws in a zinger to make us think.

She talks vastly well; I am afraid of being ungenerous, or I should say, too well to feel so very deeply; but I will not look for her faults; she may be Reginald’s wife! Heaven forbid it! Mrs. Vernon, (Letter 15)

Meanwhile, Lady Susan’s letters to her friend Alicia are the quite the opposite. She holds nothing back and so we learn the real truth at every turn of the plot. Frederica has run away because of her mother’s insistence that she marry Sir James Martin, a man she abhors. Austen reveals Lady Susan’s dark side by having a mother call her daughter a “horrid girl” and a “little devil” placing cruel dominion over her, “But she shall be punished, she shall have him.” Brrr! How cold and calculating can one be? Her immediate concern is not her daughter, but if Frederica will tell the whole story to her uncle who has gone to London to try to patch things up with her school mistress or bring her back to Churchill. Her self-assurance in her powers is boundless.

If I am vain of anything, it is of my eloquence. Consideration and esteem as surely follow command of language as admiration waits on beauty, and here I have opportunity enough for the exercise of my talent, as the chief of my time is spent in conversation. Lady Susan, (Letter 16)

She seems unstoppable until the two people she suspects least betray her. Even though she thinks Frederica is too shy and in too much awe of her to tell tales, she does, and to the one person who she thought she had total dominion over after reversing his ill opinion of her, Reginald De Courcy. Soon after Frederica’s arrival at Churchill Lady Susan’s castle of duplicitous cards begins to tumble as Sir James Martin’s unexpected entrance forces everyone’s hand. Frederica is terrified, Lady Susan off guard, Reginald silently observant, and Catherine Vernon perplexed that the previous unflattering descriptions of Frederica by her mother do not equal their subject’s behavior. She is “timid, dejected, and penitent,” not at all as her mother described. Everyone can see that Sir James is no Solomon and Frederica is strongly opposed to the match. Away from her mother’s tyranny, Catherine becomes Frederica’s friend and she sees that “There cannot be a more gentle, affectionate heart; or more obliging manners, when acting without restraint.” She also realizes that Frederica has grown fond of Reginald. Lady Susan does too, but is unconcerned by the chit of a girl whose is so charmingly artless in her display that appear ridiculous and despised by every man who sees her.

Artlessness will never do in love matters; and that girl is born a simpleton who has it either by nature or affectation. Lady Susan, (Letter 20)

It is hard to tell if it was luck or artifice that prompted Frederica to write a letter to Reginald, the one person that she knew had her mother’s ear, and entreat him to intercede on her behalf to convince Lady Susan not to press her to marry Sir James. He had obviously seen enough interaction between mother and daughter to doubt Lady Susan’s ill tales against her, and was moved by her plight. Lady Susan’s reaction to his claims of  “impropriety and unkindness” in her allowing Sir James Martin to court her daughter contrary to her inclinations really pushed the wrong button. Who was he to question her decisions? She now detests them both. As she vents her rage to her friend Alicia, we are privy to one final threat and an ominous prediction.

I have not yet tranquillised myself enough to see Frederica. She shall not soon forget the occurrences of this day; she shall find that she has poured forth her tender tale of love in vain, and exposed herself for ever to the contempt of the whole world, and the severest resentment of her injured mother. Lady Susan, (Letter 22)


© 2009 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

27 thoughts on “Lady Susan: Group Read Letters 12-22: Summary, Musings & Discussion

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  1. What a different rime. I think so many of these problems could have been eliminated had people simple come out and told what they knew.

    Frederica has a little bit of her mother’s sprirt. A girl running away at that time must have been quite scandalous.

    The fact that Sir James Martin came to the Vernon’s house to “pursue” Frederica should have shown them all Lady Sudan’s character. I believe it did. Although the Vernons handled it graciously, Martin showed little propriety in visiting.

    I liked this section of the book precisely because Lady S’s control was cracking.


    1. Bluestocking, even though Lady Susan feigned ingnorance of Sir James’ arrival, it seemed convenient to her plans. She does tell her friend Alicia that she was provoked by it, but even to confidants, a little decept can be appiled to ply her case!


  2. • I’m enjoying this reading more and more. Twists and turns make this second part, letters XII – XXII , quite thrilling. For instance, her unexpected attempt to escape reveals Frederica’s personality and real situation to the reader who, so far, has known her only from her mother’s point of view – which is not very positive at all.
    • Another satisfying turn involves the character of Reginald de Courcy who, after meeting Frederica, realizes he has been blinded by Lady Susan skillful charming art : she has manipulated him just like any other person around her. I admit I was a bit disappointed at seeing his radical change, his taking Lady Susan’s bait, since I had had a different impression of him reading his first letter
    ( Mr De Courcy to Mrs Vernon – IV),
    • Now that Frederica asks HIM for help against the wicked plans of her mother everything seems to turn against wicked Lady Susan. But reading the last lines of letter XXII I expect new turns and twists due to her devilish vindicative rage : “She –Frederica- shall not soon forget the occurrences of this day. She shall find that she has poured forth her tender Tale of Love in vain, & exposed herself forever to the contempt of the whole world, & the severest Resentment of her injured Mother”. She is terribly jelous, she would have never expected to find a rival in her daughter! Reginald seems to prefer Frederica to her! I’m looking forward to discovering what is going to happen … I’m avoiding spoilers as much as I can and respecting the dates in our reading schedule!
    It’s such fun. Thank you, L.A.!


    1. Maria Grazia, regarding Reginald De Courcy’s shift tword sympahies to Lady Susan and then Frederica – his sister did mention her his mother that he had a propensity to be applied to, so Austen did drop a clue before it happened with Frederica. I am just so surpirsed that he did defend her to her mother. What could he gain by it? He risked angering Lady Susan and loosing her favor. He must have feelings for Frederica, even though Lady Susan denies this to her friend Alicia.


  3. Frederica appears a pawn in her mother’s ambitious schemes for social advancement . Despite knowing of her misery, Lady S is really determined to force Frederica into marriage with a dislikeable man… No wonder Frederica appeals to Reginald. ‘No human Being but You could have a chance of prevailing with her’. (Letter 21) I think Frederica’s letter to Reginald for help is a real cry of desperation.
    Actually, for a girl so fearful of her mother (Letter 21); Frederica twice disobeys Lady S to avoid marriage. Her attempt to run off at school, then, writing to Reginald for help. Golly, didn’t etiquette forbid a single girl to even write a letter to a single man ?
    Frederica is intimidated by Lady S yet displays some spirit. Her judgement of Sir James as ‘silly’ is not contridicted by other charecters nor Lady S,who, I’m sure prefers a rich & mallable sort of son-in-law to control.
    Maybe Lady Susan doesn’t know her own child ? Frederica is shy but doesn’t seem stupid… Or maybe Lady S. is too callous to care… Besides, it’s so fun to flirt and scheme ;-)
    I’m glad Frederica asks Reginald for help too- Did he first doubt Lady Susan’s intentions on witnessing Frederica’s panic at Sir James unexpected arrival ? ‘I saw my Brother examining the terrified face of Frederica with surprise’ (Letter 20)
    Food for thought- is Lady Susan jealous of Frederica with Reginald ? She sure whips herself into a fury at Reginald speaking up for Frederica. Yet, I think, Lady Susan is very jealous of her own Eloquence. As part of her charm, she relies not just on her beauty but artful words to disarm men…. ‘How dared he beleive what she told him in my disfavour! Ought he not to have felt assured that I must have unanswerable Motives for all I had done! ‘. (Letter 22) Her Ladyship declares she will detest Frederica and Reginald forever- Or are Lady Susan and Reginald merely having lovers quarrels ? ;-)


    1. Mandy, I think Frederica is smarter than anyone has given her credit for so far by writting the letter to Reginald. It was her trump card. We know from Mrs. Vernon and Lady Susan that she is in love with him by her attentions and looks, but is she? Is she a younger version of her mother using charms and appeals to save her to a gallant man? Innocent or contrived, she got the result she needed and managed to win an advocate that was her mother’s favorite. Quite a feat for a ‘chit of a girl’ as her mother calls her!

      No lovers quarel. He has stepped over the line. Lady Susan now detests Rginald. I doubt very much that she is the kind to forgive. She will just move on to someone more malliable.


  4. Oh oh! The bustle, the surprise of Sir James arrival should make a good scene if ever Lady Susan may be portrayed into a film. Also, that very long talk of Lady Susan and Mrs. Vernon is so curious!

    Something humorous too came into my mind while reading that certain conversation. It was in epistolary form or in letters and therefore, how could Mrs. Vernon write the conversation and remember so well the parts to her mother? Quite weird don’t you think :))


    1. Actually, I’ve been thinking Lady Susan relies on eloquence to influence people… even wary Mrs Vernon notes ‘she talks vastly well’ (Letter 15) Do you mean letter 20 ?
      Possibly, J. Austen used direct speech in some letters to illustrate Lady Susan’s language in conversation/ attempts at deception …Yet, mama is unable to disguise Fredercia’s clear embarrasement with Sir James to Mrs Vernon. …mommie dearest, yes ?


    2. Cutlex, I am glad you brought up the use of quoted conversation in letter 20. Jane Austen starts to break from the traditional epistolary format and include chunks of conversation in quotes instead of the letter writer describing the conversation. Scholars have claimed that Austen later abandoned the epistolary format because she struggled with it and was not particularly good at it. When you quote conversation in a letter it seems odd. How could anyone have that good a memory, yet she could have easily just described the events by the writer? I’m not sure of her writing motive here. Was she geting tired of the constraints of the format? Was she trying to advance it? Her next full novel Elinor and Marianne would be written in letter format, so obvisouly she was still intriged and compelled to continue writing in this style. I think that Lady Susan was an experiment, a challenge to herself – almost an exercise in writing. Considering that she wrote it in her late teens or early twenties, it is quite an achievement.


  5. I was most glad to finally hear from Frederica herself in Letter 21! Before this letter, our impression of her was either from the opinion of her mother or her aunt. And Frederica turns out to be neither a ‘stupid girl’ as her mother claims, nor is she ‘perfectly timid’ as her aunt describes. In fact, Frederica’s deliberate choice of writing to Reginald to plead her case shows an astuteness and gumption beyond her years! She’s shrewd enough to understand Reginald’s importance and influence on her mother and she acts on this, despite the impropriety of intimately writing to a man whom she barely knew. Maybe she’s more of her mother’s daughter, after all? =) Maybe Lady Susan’s ‘notion of her being such a little Devil’ is more spot on than even she could have guessed. I hope to hear from Frederica again and to see what more she will do to foil her mother’s schemes!


  6. There is something I do continue to wonder about Lady Susan with regards to her late husband and her current state of financial security. So far, the only things we do know about her late husband is he’s the older brother of Charles Vernon and he had a prolonged illness before his death. If she has the title Lady, does that mean her husband was a titled gentleman? Was he the eldest son, so that the estate will be entailed to him? Even from Charles Vernon’s letters, we glean nothing of the Vernon family. But we do know from Mrs. Johnson that the De Courcy estate is entailed to Reginald. So, the fact that there is no mention of Vernon estate entailment, leaves me with the impression that Lady Susan has been left a financially insecure widow. Which is why she seems eager to find a well-to-do potential husband/lover (Reginald or Manwaring) or a well-to-do son-in-law (James Martin) that she can manipulate.

    Which leads me to another question: If Lady Susan does manage to make Manwaring her lover, how secure a position does Lady Susan get in Victorian society? Does it not ostracize her more? Or she just has to know how to play the ‘game’ and not get caught red-handed (which she so far has shown she is capable of getting away with!)


    1. My impression is to be Lady (first name) Lady Susan is the daughter of a Peer, possibly an Earl….Lady Susan did not marry a titled man- or presumably, Mr Charles Vernon would inherit any family title after his deceased brother.
      I don’t see how there was any entailment on the Vernon’s estate… In Letter 5 Lady Susan says they were obliged to sell Vernon Castle & she persuaded her husband not to sell it to his younger brother, Charles as he was about to marry,so they couldn’t live with him at the Castle…. As they were obliged to sell the Family Estate (debts ?) I think Lady Susan’s repuation for being in want of money goes back to before she was a widow… she’s ambitous to marry Frederica to rich, stupid Sir James and manipulate his purse strings.
      I find it interesting LS says ‘Could Matters have been so arranged as to prevent the necessity of our leaving the Castle, could we have lived with Charles & kept him single, I… very far from persuading my husband to dispose of it elsewhere;’
      Lady Susan wanted Charles to remain single so she and her husband could live at Vernon Castle; so opposed Charles marriage to Miss Cath de C, resulting in grudges. Consider, if Mr Vernon had a prolonged illness- after his death, if Lady S managed to keep rich, kindly Charles single- she may’ve married her brother-in-law !


      1. Thanks for these illuminating points, Mandy N! Totally forgot about Letter 5.

        And what horrors… Charles, if remained single, would certainly have been caught in Lady Susan’s web… Spot on, Mandy N! *shudders at the thought*


  7. Bravo, Frederica!

    For all of Lady Susan’s talk of how enjoyable it is to make “a person pre-determined to dislike, acknowledge one’s superiority,” Lady Susan never quite admits her daughter has a remarkable talent for it.
    Letter 22 is by far my favorite. (followed closely by letter 21) We finally get to see Lady Susan at her most unhinged and I giggled all through her rant to Mrs. Johnson.
    I am struck by Austen’s choice to have Lady Susan view her daughter as a romantic rival rather than a protege to be unleashed on London society. It’s clear that if the two of them were to join forces no gentleman with a fortune would be safe.


  8. I’m so glad we finally get to see more of Frederica! From Catherine’s letters she is greatly rising in my regard, and I pity the desperation that drives her to rebel, but all the above comments suggest that she may be more like Lady S. than she seems at first glance. It would be nice for Frederica if she could win Reginald by sincerity. At this point, though, he my opinion he doesn’t have much to recommend him. He falls for Lady S.’s stories hook, line and sinker, and now again proves himself servant to any female who seems maligned. I’ve love to know his perspective on these most recent events, but I’m holding myself to not reading ahead!

    A lot of what Lady S. says strikes me as Austen’s early attempts at satire, such as dismissing accomplishments and now artlessness. On the other hand, Jane certainly does prove that “consideration and esteem follow command of language.”

    Laurel Ann, I love your suggestion that Lady de Courcy intended all along for her husband to see that letter!


  9. For all of Frederica’s ‘artlessness’, she reminds me of May Welland from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. When Lady Susan says of Frederica:

    Her feelings are tolerably lively, and she is so charmingly artless in their display, as to afford the most reasonable hope of her being ridiculed and despised by every Man who sees her. Artlessness will never do in Love matters, and that girl is born a simpleton who has it either by nature or affectation. (Letter 19)

    Lady Susan has truly underestimated the power of artlessness! I don’t think Frederica will be as ruthless as her mother, possessing a better heart like May Welland, but she will work things to her advantage. Can’t wait to see who Frederica ends up with!


  10. What caught me about this section was that Reginald De Courcey defended Frederica to Lady Susan. I was shocked and slightly baffled! Does he have feelings for her that we don’t seem to pick up on from the letters other than those of Catherine Vernon? Catherine’s opinion of Frederica and Reginald is hard to gather–does she tell the truth or is it just how SHE sees things?

    It’s exciting to hear from Frederica and try to figure out who she really is. She is obviously smarting than her mother gives her credit for. Perhaps she has simply acted the “chit of a girl” that Lady Susan calls her and is in fact, quite smart and endearing? Another reader called her “shrewd” and I like that. Frederica isn’t ignorant of her surroundings–she knows exactly what’s going on and as the young girl who no one to defend her, she must figure out who to trust.


  11. I don’t mean to enter this giveaway, but I did want to comment. lol

    My body is starting to really feel anxious at this point in the story. HOW can people not see her for what she is? I have run into people like her before… they can charm and excuse their way out of even the most solid and damning evidence of their wrong doing and You don’t know WHO you want to slap more; them for being boldfaced liars or the idiots who buy into their elaborate excuses!

    It’s amazing how Austen is able to capture it all so well that you would actually get the same feelings from reading it as you do when it is actually happeneing!


  12. Thanks for all your opinions, I’m still not sure what to think of the persons and their letters, let alone write my thoughts down in English.
    Many of the letters first let me think in one way and than hafway that letter Things turn around in a totally other direction, I’m puzzled what to think of it, so I don’t want to form my opinion yet, I’ll keep on reading.
    (I’m reading behind all of you, sorry)


  13. Fantastic summary! And so the plot thickens. I was very happy to see Lady Susan’s house of cards come tumbling down first with the arrival of Frederica and then by Sir James. It is hard to keep the lie when everyone can obviously see that Frederica is not the insulant girl proclaimed by her mother and that she obviously detests the not very smart Sir James.

    I feel bad for Frederica. What a mother!! I wonder what has caused Lady’s Susan’s near hatred for her daughter. I am only glad that Frederica does have a little pluck and applied to Reginald. I kind of want Reginald and Frederica to end up together . . . but also slightly dispise Reginald for being so obviously duped by Lady Susan.


  14. Letter 16 – Lady Susan on Love

    “This is one sort of love, but I confess it does not particularly recommend itself to me. I infinitely prefer the tender and liberal spirit of Mainwaring, which, impressed with the deepest conviction of my merit, is satisfied that whatever I do must be right; and look with a degree of contempt on the inquisitive and doubtful fancies of that heart which seems always debating on the reasonableness of its emotions.”

    So, I question Mainwaring’s character. Does Lady Susan get to step all over him or is he the one person to whom she will acquiesce?


  15. I really appreciate the book events that Austenprose offers. It is a great way to gain more in-depth knowledge of a particular novel. I also enjoy reading the comments section and the information that readers share.


  16. I am loving this group read. Granted, I’m a bit late to the game and am only now catching up. But I love what you’ve done. There were things pointed out in your posts and in the comments that I was slow to grasp on my own. It’s made me think more about the text. Which is always a good thing :)


  17. This early work reflects the emerging adulthood of Jane. The desire to be just a little wicked so typical of the age. As she matured, so did her style and her reserve,


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