Naxos AudioBooks Recording of Lady Susan – A Review

Naxos AudioBooks Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (2001)Jane 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 at that 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 The manuscript would remain unpublished until 54 years after her death with its inclusion in the appendix of her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography of his aunt, A Memoir of Jane Austen in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.

Lady Susan’s greatest fault lies in its comparison to its young sisters. Since few novels can surpass or equal Miss Austen’s masterpieces, it should be accepted for what it is – a charming melodramatic piece by an author in the making. Not only are we presented with interesting and provocative characters,  Austen reveals an early understanding of social machinations, wit, and the exquisite language that would become her trademark. Its greatest challenge appears to be in the limitations of the epistolary format itself 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. Withstanding  its shortcomings, it is still a glistening jewel; smart, funny, and intriguing wicked.

Given the obvious challenges of converting a novel written in letter format into audio recording, I was amazed and delighted at how listening to the novel enhanced my enjoyment. Naxos AudioBooks has pulled together a first rate production presenting a stellar cast supported by beautiful classical music. Casting British stage and screen actress Harriet Walter as the fabulously wicked Lady Susan was brilliant. She offers the appropriate edge and attitude necessary to complement the text. With Walter’s, we are never in any doubt of Lady Susan’s full capacity to scheme, manipulate and ooze immorality and deception. Unlike many audio recording where one narrator uses many voices to portray each character, this recording offers 7 actors, similar to a stage or radio production with each part cast with a unique actor offering variety and interest. We truly connect to each portrayal of the character as they write their letters, inflect emotion into their train of thought, and personalize the production. The addition of period music by Romberg and Mozart equally enhance the setting.

Running two hours and thirty minutes, this audio recording of Lady Susan actually enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of this often neglected yet highly amusing novella. I recommend it highly.

5 out 5 Stars

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen,
Naxos AudioBooks, USA (2001)
Unabridged audio recording, (2) CD’s, 2 hours, 30 min
ISBN: 978-9626342282

17 thoughts on “Naxos AudioBooks Recording of Lady Susan – A Review

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  1. I love your drawings! You both have the best material to share with your readers. Oh I would absolutely love to win this drawing! Hearing my first Jane Austen novel on audio CD completely transformed my understanding of the language and enabled me to read her classic works with enjoyment rather than the labored way I did through high school. Let’s face it, as you said, her master use of the language is not easy for someone who didn’t grow up and learn the language in England. For me, it was trying to learn a second language. ha ha


  2. I felt hearing each letter read aloud brought me as a listener into direct contact with different charecters- Lady Susan, Mrs Vernon, Reginald, Mrs de C, Alicia…’Consideration & Esteem as surely follow command of language’… Agree with you on the period music; particularly the piano for a touch of Regency era authenticity !


  3. Did you say several actors, not just one narrator? I’m sold! I love any audio that has a cast and not just a narrator. Somehow having more than one voice just makes the book come alive (exception: Jim Dale’s Harry Potter) in a way that one reader cannot achieve. I’m putting this one in my list of audiobooks to listen to at some point!


  4. I have recently discovered a love of listening to Austen on audiobook. I really believe that hearing Austen read aloud gives me a different understanding and take on the novels. This version sounds fantastic. I especially love that they used different actors for different characters. I will definitely have to check it out. Great review!


  5. My family loaned this from the library and we just finished listening to it. We loved it! It was the perfect way to experience the book.


  6. This sounds amazing! I’m already impressed with how the story carries along well in letter-format which is my first experience with such. Please count me in on this!


  7. I sometimes have trouble with pronunciation of Regency era vocabulary in Austen’s works. It sounds like hearing the works out loud is a good way to experience the language.


  8. It would be interesting to see how this is dramatized on audio. I would love to be able to hear it. Though, I must admit, I’d really love to be able to see this one dramatized. I think it would emphasize all the book’s strengths and really bring it to life. It sounds like the audio book does this a bit.


  9. I love audio books. Always have one going in my car. This would be a lovely addition. There are several books I’ve read, then listened to and I can’t believe how much better listening to it was. A good reader/performer is essential.


    My dear friends,
    I am wondering if any of you Jane Austen fans would be able to help me. Circa 1999, Jane Austen’s Lady Susan was played weekly ( in a talking book format ) on a late night radio station. The single reader was definitely British and sounded a lot like the actress Joan Collins. Pure venom and style. Picture that. Is there any fan that could help me find such a recording. All the recordings I have sampled so far, sound as flat as a dishwashing commercial. Sadly, said radio station has no archive records. So, think verve, think theatrical, all the worlds a stage and definitely remember Jane’s quote “common-place nonsense talked, but scarcely any wit.”
    Sir Christopher.


    1. Sir Christopher – I am am not aware of any radio programs, but it sounds like something that BBC Radio would do. Are you in the UK? If so, they might be able to assist you. Maybe one of our readers will chime in.


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