‘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! 


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 


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.


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.


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: Choice Bon Mots, Quotes, & Quips from Lady Susan

A Mememoir Of Jane Austen, Edward James Austen-Leigh, 2nd ed (1871)Here is a collection of bon mots, quotes and quips from Lady Susan. Even though Jane Austen wrote this epistolary novella in her late teens, she had already developed a keen eye for language and the witty retort that she would later be famous for in her mature novels. Enjoy! 

I take London in my way to that insupportable spot, a country village. Lady Susan, Letter 2

I am not quite weak enough to suppose a woman who has behaved with inattention, if not with unkindness, to her own child, should be attached to any of mine. Mrs. Vernon, Letter 3 

Where pride and stupidity unite there can be no dissimulation worthy notice. Reginald De Courcy, Letter 4 

It is undoubtedly better to deceive him entirely, and since he will be stubborn he must be tricked. Lady Susan, Letter 5 

Where there is a disposition to dislike, a motive will never be wanting. Lady Susan, Letter 5 

One is apt, I believe, to connect assurance of manner with coquetry, and to expect that an impudent address will naturally attend an impudent mind. Mrs. Vernon, Letter 6 

Education will gain a woman some applause, but will not add one lover to her list–grace and manner, after all, are of the greatest importance. Lady Susan, Letter 7 

There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person predetermined to dislike acknowledge one’s superiority. Lady Susan, Letter 7 

I have never yet found that the advice of a sister could prevent a young man’s being in love if he chose. Lady Susan, Letter 10 

[Y]oung men in general do not admit of any enquiry even from their nearest relations into affairs of the heart. Sir Reginald De Courcy, Letter 12 

[H]ow little the general report of anyone ought to be credited; since no character, however upright, can escape the malevolence of slander. Reginald De Courcy, Letter 14 

She talks vastly well; I am afraid of being ungenerous, or I should say, too well to feel so very deeply. Mrs. Vernon, Letter 15 

Consideration and esteem as surely follow command of language as admiration waits on beauty. Lady Susan, Letter 16 

Those women are inexcusable who forget what is due to themselves, and the opinion of the world. Lady Susan, Letter 16 

There are plenty of books, but it is not every girl who has been running wild the first fifteen years of her life, that can or will read. Mrs. Vernon, Letter 17 

In short, when a person is always to deceive, it is impossible to be consistent. Mrs. Vernon, Letter17 

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 19 

I shall ever despise the man who can be gratified by the passion which he never wished to inspire, nor solicited the avowal of. Lady Susan, Letter 22 

[T]hat woman is a fool indeed who, while insulted by accusation, can be worked on by compliments. Lady Susan, Letter 22 

Young men are often hasty in their resolutions, and not more sudden in forming than unsteady in keeping them. Lady Susan, Letter 23 

I left her almost in silence. It was the greatest stretch of forbearance I could practise. Mrs. Vernon, Letter 24 

I ought not to punish him by dismissing him at once after this reconciliation, or by marrying and teazing him for ever. Lady Susan, Letter 25 

Flexibility of mind, a disposition easily biassed by others, is an attribute which you know I am not very desirous of obtaining. Lady Susan, Letter 25 

Silly woman to expect constancy from so charming a man! Mrs. Johnson, Letter 26 

[T]oo old to be agreeable, too young to die. Lady Susan, Letter 29 

That detestable Mrs. Mainwaring, who, for your comfort, has fretted herself thinner and uglier than ever. Mrs. Johnson, Letter 32 

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 26 

I dare say you did all for the best, and there is no defying destiny. Mrs. Johnson, Letter 38 

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. Lady Susan, Letter 39 

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? The Narrator, The Conclusion 

The world must judge from probabilities; she had nothing against her but her husband, and her conscience. The Narrator, The Conclusion

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 11 – Sep 11      Guest blog – Regency Letter Writing
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

Lady Susan: Group Read Letters 23-33: Summary, Musings & Discussion: Day Nine Giveaway

Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Minor Works (1988)I must warn you of one thing – – do not let Frederica Vernon be made unhappy by that Martin. He wants to marry her; her mother promotes the match, but she cannot endure the idea of it. Reginald De Courcy Letter 23

Quick Synopsis 

Catherine Vernon writes to her mother delighted that Lady Susan and Reginald’s quarrel has separated them. Catherine Vernon writes to her mother agitated that Lady Susan and Reginald are reconciled, Frederica is still unhappy after Sir James’ departure, and sickened by Lady Susan’s deceit. Lady Susan writes to Alicia triumphant that Reginald is more devoted than ever, scheming to punish Frederica, Mrs. Vernon, and Reginald. She is off to London to complete the match. Mrs. Johnson writes to Lady Susan encouraging her to come to London,  advises her to marry Reginald, but to wait on her plans for her daughter. Mrs. Vernon writes to her mother warning that Reginald is on his way home, but may follow Lady Susan to London. Frederica stays with her. Mrs. Johnson writes to Lady Susan glad that De Courcy is all her own, but miffed by her own husband. Lady Susan writes to Alicia pleased that Manwaring has arrived, but hesitant to marry Reginald until the old man is dead. Lady Susan writes to Reginald putting off their meeting and the delaying the marriage. Lady Susan writes to Alicia of Reginald’s surprise visit asking for her to entertain him since Manwaring is expected. Mrs. Johnson writes to Lady Susan in agony. Mrs. Manwaring has revealed Lady Susan’s affair with her husband to Mr. Johnson and Reginald. Lady Susan writes to Mrs. Johnson provoked but undismayed.  She is confident that she can make Reginald see her story.


As Letter 23 from Mrs. Vernon to her mother opens on an upbeat note, I become wary. She is “delighted the affair that has caused so much agitation is over,” but is it? How could she think that Lady Susan, the “Mistress of deceit” would let Reginald go and agree to remove Sir James so easily? I didn’t. I think that Austen is playing with us here, setting the story up for another surprise. A woman with an ego like Lady Susan will want the last say, and her revenge. And boy does she get it.

While Catherine Vernon learns from Frederica of the fall-out from the quarrel of Lady Susan and Reginald, we suspect that Lady Susan is scheming to reverse everything and everyone against her. I was disappointed in her being able to reverse Reginald’s anger and mend their relationship so easily, but Lady Susan’s speech in her defense to Mrs. Vernon was, well, just amazing.

“Good God!” she exclaimed, “what an opinion you must have of me! Can you possibly suppose that I was aware of her unhappiness! that it was my object to make my own child miserable, and that I had forbidden her speaking to you on the subject from a fear of your interrupting the diabolical scheme? Do you think me destitute of every honest, every natural feeling? Am I capable of consigning HER to everlasting: misery whose welfare it is my first earthly duty to promote? The idea is horrible!” Lady Susan Letter 24

Everything she is accusing Mrs. Vernon of assuming is in fact true! She is using all of her guilt strings to placate Mrs. Vernon into submission. She even goes so far as to admit fault in a round-about-way and reproach herself! She didn’t know Frederica was unhappy. She didn’t know her daughter was so smart and could tell the difference between a man of no understanding and one who did. If this does not dispel any doubts of her being a negligent mother before, then there is no argument now. Happily, Catherine Vernon is not buying any of it.

I left her almost in silence. It was the greatest stretch of forbearance I could practise. I could not have stopped myself had I begun. Her assurance! her deceit! but I will not allow myself to dwell on them; they will strike you sufficiently. My heart sickens within me. Mrs. Vernon Letter 24

This letter is probably the most significant in the novel. It reveals how underhanded and to what depth Lady Susan will sink to manipulate her prey. It also shows that when Lady Susan was written in Jane Austen’s late teens she was keenly aware of what craft words can weave “when first we practice too deceive.”  This is a great example of what amazes me about Austen’s early skill as a writer and how after reading Lady Susan I understand her so much better. She is showing us the darker side of human nature in a more overt way than we experience in her mature novels. It takes a brilliant mind to scheme at this level; to seek out conflict and manipulation to feed their need for a challenge. This concept obviously intrigued Austen well enough to develop this novel. We can only imagine how even more fascinating the story could have been if in maturity she had approached it again. Lady Susan may be an anti-heroine to her spirited Lizzy Bennet or reserved Anne Elliot, but she is one captivating creature, ready to win at any cost and I am enthralled.

[A]t present my thoughts are fluctuating between various schemes. I have many things to compass: I must punish Frederica, and pretty severely too, for her application to Reginald; I must punish him for receiving it so favourably, and for the rest of his conduct. I must torment my sister-in-law for the insolent triumph of her look and manner since Sir James has been dismissed; for, in reconciling Reginald to me, I was not able to save that ill-fated young man; and I must make myself amends for the humiliation to which I have stooped within these few days. Lady Susan Letter 25

And so she plans her revenge and heads to London where her confidant and partner in duplicity, Alicia Johnson awaits. Two spiders perched in their webs! Whence Lady Susan goes, people tend to follow, especially men, supplying her with two lovers at the same time which she must juggle. One, Reginald De Courcy, she wants to marry, eventually, but not until his father is dead and not to impeding her freedom, and the other, Mr. Manwaring, holding the strongest charm imaginable making him irresistible –  a jealous wife – placing him just beyond reach of marriage, but close enough to offer that clandestine rush she desires. Oh my! We are getting deeper and deeper into the dark side of human nature that is handled so subtly in the major novels. In her correspondence with Alicia we see the closest truth she will tell anyone, and the fabulous wickedness let loose.

My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die. Lady Susan Letter 29 

He must not come till Mainwaring is gone. I am still doubtful at times as to marrying; if the old man would die I might not hesitate, but a state of dependance on the caprice of Sir Reginald will not suit the freedom of my spirit. Lady Susan Letter 29

In Lady Susan’s ideal world, men are either play things, or nuisances that should die. When in letter 30 she writes to Reginald who is awaiting her command for their reunion in London, she explains that their meeting must be delayed, and also their marriage. She feigns propriety, unable to incur the censure of Mr. Vernon (her meal ticket) and the world by a marriage too soon after her husband’s death. Oh really? Since when did propriety ever rule her life? We know from past experience that Reginald is “hasty in his resolutions” and jealousy of Manwaring, so when she plants the bait and conveniently mentions that she is amusing herself with Manwarings entertainment in London, the predicable happens. Reginald arrives. What man violently in love would not rush to her side? One does not tell a man that he can not see you and then in the same breath mention another man favorably without expecting results. That’s basic man manipulation 101. Interestingly, she has also sent for Manwaring. This Lady likes to live on the edge! At the same time she is having her adulterous rendezvous with Manwaring, Reginald, whom she has sent to Alicia’s is learning the truth. Mrs. Manwarings, the jealous wife, also arrives at Alicia’s requesting the  interference of her guardian Mr. Johnson.

[B]efore I could be aware of it, everything that you could wish to be concealed was known to him, and unluckily she had wormed out of Manwaring’s servant that he had visited you every day since your being in town, and had just watched him to your door herself! Mrs. Johnson Letter 32

Austen then gives Mrs. Johnson one of the best lines in the novel. “What could I do? Facts are such horrid things.” Indeed they are! Even though Alicia is in agony and distressed over the incriminating event, Lady Susan, with her cool and calculating reserve is provoked, but not dismayed. With the ease and confidence of a master schemer, she tells Alicia to “depend on it, I can make my story good with Reginald.” So well she knows the foibles of men!

Further reading

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Day 9 Giveaway 

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works, by Jane Austen (Oxford University Press) edited by R.W. Chapman (1988) including Juvenilia, Lady Susan, The Watson, Sandition and much more.

Leave a comment by September 13th to qualify for the free drawing on September 14th for one copy of the Oxford University Press edition of The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works, by Jane Austen (US residents only)

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 10 – Sep 10      LS Quotes & Quips
Day 11 – Sep 11       Guest blog – Regency Letter Writing
Day 12 – Sep 12       LS Group Read – Letters 34-41 & Concl.
Day 13 – Sep 13       LS Book Review

© 2009 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

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

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

Quick Synopsis

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

Further reading

A Soirée with Lady Susan: DAY 5 Giveaway

Lady Susan, The Watson and Sandition, by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics), introduction by Margaret Drabble (2003)

Leave a comment by September 13th to qualify for the free drawing on September 14th for one copy of the Penguin Classics edition of Lady Susan, The Watson and Sandition, by Jane Austen (US residents only)

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 06 – Sept 6    LS Naxos Audio book review
Day 07 – Sep 7     Guest blog – Lady Vernon & her Daughter
Day 08 – Sep 8      Morgan Library Jane Austen Exhibit
Day 09 – Sep 9      LS Group Read – Letters 23-33

© 2009 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Upper Seymour Street & Portman Square in Regency London

Portman Square, London ca 1813

I would ask you to Edward Street, but that once he forced from me a kind of promise never to invite you to my house; nothing but my being in the utmost distress for money should have extorted it from me. I can get you, however, a nice drawing-room apartment in Upper Seymour Street, and we may be always together there or here; for I consider my promise to Mr. Johnson as comprehending only (at least in his absence) your not sleeping in the house. Mrs. Johnson to Lady Susan, Letter 26

Upper Seymour Street and Portman Square in Regency London 

At Jane Austen’s World 

In Jane Austen’s epistolary novella Lady Susan, the anti-heroine Lady Susan travels to London and also writes several letters to her confidant Alicia Johnson who lives at Upper Seymour Street. Learn all about this prominent area in Regency London in Vic’s (Ms Place) excellent blog on Upper Seymour Street and Portman Square in Regency London at her lovely blog Jane Austen’s World. Please join us next week when she writes about letter writing and the Royal Mail in Regency times. Thanks Vic! 

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 05 – Sept 5     Group Read LS Letters 12-22
Day 06 – Sept 6     LS Naxos Audio book review
Day 07 – Sep 7      Guest blog – Lady Vernon & her Daughter
Day 08 – Sep 8      Morgan Library Jane Austen Exhibit

On the Trail of Lady Susan: The History of the Manuscript

Manuscript of Lady Susan, Letter 19In 1805, Jane Austen transcribed a fair copy of an untitled manuscript that would later be named Lady Susan by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh and published in 1871 in the second edition of his book A Memoir of Jane Austen. This was the first publication of an Austen early manuscript. The text however, was printed from an inaccurate copy since the original was missing. He introduced the addition of the novella in his preface giving a short explanation of its history and its provenance in the family up until that point.


I HAVE lately received permission to print the following tale from the author’s niece, Lady Knatch- bull, of Provender, in Kent, to whom the autograph copy was given. I am not able to ascertain when it was composed. Her family have always believed it to be an early production. Perhaps she wrote it as an experiment in conducting a story by means of letters. It was not, however, her only attempt of that kind; for ‘ Sense and Sensibility’ was first written in letters ; but as she afterwards re-wrote one of these works and never published the other, it is probable that she was not quite satisfied with the result. The tale itself is scarcely one on which a literary reputation could have been founded: but though, like some plants, it may be too slight to stand alone, it may, perhaps, be supported by the strength of her more firmly rooted works. At any rate, it cannot diminish Jane Austen’s reputation as a writer; for even if it should be judged unworthy of the publicity now given to it, the censure must fall on him who has put it forth, not on her who kept it locked up in her desk.

Even though the manuscript was undated, scholars where able to determine from the watermark on the paper that Jane Austen transcribed the copy in 1805. As James Edward Austen-Leigh mentions in his preface, the Austen family believed it was an earlier work, but revealed no more. It is generally believed from the style and maturity of the writing that it was written between 1793 – 94, after Catharine in (1793),now classified as part of her Juvenilia, but before Elinor and Marianne (1795), also written in an epistolary format and later reworked into her signature third person narrative and renamed Sense and Sensibility. Austen obviously thought the novel worthy enough to make a new copy in 1805 and kept it safely among her papers until her death. Some scholars also believe that the conclusion of the novel was also written at this time. Why she chose to never re-visit Lady Susan we shall never know. I do think it humorous that Austen-Leigh attempted to forestall reproof of reception by blaming himself for its publication and not the author. Nice ironic touch worthy of Austen herself.

Upon her death in 1817, all of Jane Austen’s correspondence and manuscripts were inherited by her sister Cassandra Austen. Two of her novels from this collection, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion would be published posthumously in 1818, but not the untitled manuscript later known as Lady Susan. It would pass upon Cassandra’s death in 1845 to Jane Austen’s favorite niece Lady Knatchbull, nee Fanny Austen Knight. Along with other minor works and many of Austen’s personal letters, the manuscript was safeguarded by Lady Knatchbull for over twenty years until Austen-Leigh approached his cousin and proposed its publication in the second edition of his memoir of his aunt. Unfortunately, Lady Knatchbull now in her late seventies had safeguarded it so well, she could not find it, and an inaccurate copy was used in its place. In addition to this challenge, not everyone in the family thought it worthy of publication and Austen-Leigh’s half sister Anna was strongly opposed. Obviously, she lost the debate.

The manuscript would remain in the Knatchbull family for several more years passing with the death of Lady Knatchbull in 1882 to her son Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen, 1st Lord Brabourne. Luckily, he located the manuscript and other Austen letters among his mother’s paperwork. In what was now a family tradition, Brabourne would also promote his famous ancestor’s writings by editing and publishing the first collection of her letters into two volumes in 1884. The family had inherited Austen’s legacy safeguarding and profiting from it for many years until Lord Brabourne’s decision to sell the manuscript of Lady Susan in 1893 along with his collection of letters and minor works at auction. Even though Jane Austen was experiencing widespread popularity as a writer in the 1890’s, it is shocking that dealers Dupree, Barker, and Waller of London only paid £37 for it. Once the manuscript was out of family hands it could easily disappear, as some of her letters have, and it did – as it passed from dealer to dealer for several years. By 1925 it was in the possession of collector Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery who gave noted Austen scholar R. W. Chapman permission to study the manuscript and edit the first accurate text. Following the sale of Rosebery’s library by his heirs in 1933, the manuscript was acquired by bookseller Walter M. Hill of Chicago. Finally, in 1947 it was purchased from New York dealer James E. Drake by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York where it resides today on display for all to enjoy. It is the only surviving complete manuscript of a Jane Austen novel.

If you would like to gaze upon Jane Austen’s manuscript of Lady Susan, don’t miss the new exhibit at The Morgan Library in New York, A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy opening on November 6, 2009 through March 14, 2010. Anyone fortunate enough to attend must report back. Like Miss Emma Woodhouse, we must have our news.

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 04 – Sept 4           Guest Blog Vic – Jane Austen’s World
Day 05 – Sept 5           Group Read LS Letters 12-22
Day 06 – Sept 6           LS Naxos Audio book review
Day 07 – Sept 7           Guest Blog – Lady Vernon & her Daughter