Book Previews, Editor's Picks, Historical Fantasy, Paranormal & Gothic Fiction, Holiday Gifts, Jane Austen's Lady Susan, Jane Austen's Works

A Preview of Plumleaf Press Vintage Classics: The Perfect Christmas Gift for the Discerning Reader

Happy Friday, dear readers. How is your holiday shopping going? I find that when there are so many gift editions of classic novels available, it is difficult to choose. Here’s my criteria for narrowing down the field:

  1. A beautifully designed cover and interior.
  2. Easy-to-read text.
  3. An author bio, and an insightful introduction.

This year my number one choice is the Plumleaf Vintage—Set of 3, which includes three lesser known classics written by women, and therefore much more cherished by the discerning reader. The collection features three epistolary novels: Lady Susan, by Jane Austen, The Grey Woman, by Elizabeth Gaskell, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë. Continue reading “A Preview of Plumleaf Press Vintage Classics: The Perfect Christmas Gift for the Discerning Reader”

Book Reviews, Jane Austen's Lady Susan, Jane Austen's Works

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 The manuscript would remain unpublished until 54 years after her death with its inclusion in the appendix of  her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography of his aunt, A Memoir of Jane Austen in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 Continue reading “Lady Susan, by Jane Austen – A Review”

Group Read, Jane Austen's Lady Susan, Jane Austen's Works

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

© 2009 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Jane Austen's Lady Susan, Jane Austen's Works

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

Group Read, Jane Austen's Lady Susan, Jane Austen's Works

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

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 Continue reading “Lady Susan: Group Read Letters 23-33: Summary, Musings, & Discussion”

Jane Austen's Lady Susan, Jane Austen's Works

Visit Lady Susan During ‘A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy’ at the Morgan Library Starting November 6th

The Morgan Library, New York CityThe Morgan Library & Museum in New York City has the largest collection of Jane Austen’s personal letters and manuscripts in the world. Among the collection is the manuscript of Lady Susan. We are very fortunate that the Morgan had the foresight to acquire and retain these items as a collection after the Austen family decided to sell their ancestors legacy in the early 1890’s. For the first time in over twenty-five years, the Morgan Library & Museum is mounting a new exhibition to showcase Jane Austen, their collection, and her literary influence. ‘A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy’ will open on November 6, 2009 and run through March 14, 2010. Here is a description of the event from the Library’s website.

This exhibition explores the life, work, and legacy of Jane Austen (1775–1817), regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. Over the past two decades, numerous successful motion picture and television adaptations of Austen’s novels have led to a resurgence of interest in her life and work. Providing a close-up portrait of Austen, this show achieves tangible intimacy with the author through the presentation of her manuscripts and personal letters, which the Morgan has not exhibited in a generation.

The Morgan’s collection of Austen’s manuscripts and letters is the largest of any institution in the world and includes the darkly satiric Lady Susan, the only surviving complete manuscript of any of Austen’s novels. The exhibition also includes first and early illustrated editions of Austen’s novels as well as contemporary drawings and prints depicting people, places, and events of biographical significance. In addition to the literary influences that inspired and informed Austen’s works are responses by later writers as diverse as Auden, Kipling, Nabokov, Scott, Woolf, and Yeats. A highlight of the exhibition is a specially commissioned film of contemporary authors and artists, including Fran Lebowitz, Colm Tóbín, and Cornel West, commenting on Austen’s work and influence will also be shown in the gallery.

Also included will be a free Gallery Talk on Friday, November 20, 2009 at 7 p.m. given by Declan Kiely and Robert H. Taylor, the Curator of the exhibit and Department Head, Literary and Historical Manuscripts, The Morgan Library & Museum respectively. All gallery talks and tours are free with museum admission; no tickets or reservations are necessary. They usually last one hour and meet at the Benefactor’s Wall across from the coat check area.

I am quite envious of anyone who can attend, and hope to hear favorable reports of a pleasant day spent with Jane in New York.

Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Jane Austen's Lady Susan, Jane Austen's Works

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. Continue reading “Naxos AudioBooks Recording of Lady Susan – A Review”

Group Read, Jane Austen's Lady Susan, Jane Austen's Works

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)

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. Continue reading “Lady Susan: Group Read Letters 12-22: Summary, Musings & Discussion”

Jane Austen's Lady Susan, Jane Austen's Works

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. Continue reading “On the Trail of Lady Susan: The History of the Manuscript”