Her 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
- Lady Susan: Group reading schedule
- Lady Susan: Online text complements of Molland’s Circulating Library
- Lady Susan: List of Characters (spoilers ahead)
- Lady Susan: Plot Summary Letters 12-22
- Lady Susan: Quips and Quotes Letters 12-22
- Lady Susan: Group Read Letters 1-11
© 2009 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose