Q&A with Love & Friendship Writer/Director/Author Whit Stillman

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016 x 200Austen scholar Devoney Looser joins us today during the Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour to interview ‘Friend of Jane,’ writer/director/author Whit Stillman, whose new hit movie Love & Friendship, and its companion novel, are on the radar of every Janeite.

Welcome, Ms. Looser and Mr. Stillman to Austenprose.com.

Devoney Looser: We Janeites know that you go way back as a Janeite yourself. (Would you label yourself that? I see you’ve copped elsewhere to “Jane Austen nut.”) You’ve admitted you were once dismissive of Austen’s novels as a young man—telling everyone you hated them—but that after college you did a 180, thanks to your sister. Anything more you’d like to tell us about that?

Whit Stillman: I prefer Austenite and I consider myself among the most fervent. Yes, there was a contretemps with Northanger Abbey when I was a depressed college-sophomore entirely unfamiliar with the gothic novels she was mocking — but I was set straight not many years later.

DL: What made you decide that “Lady Susan” wasn’t the right title to present this film to an audience? (Most of Austenprose’s readers will be wise to the fact that Austen herself didn’t choose that title for her novella, first published in 1871.) I like your new title Love & Friendship very much, but clever Janeites will know you lifted it from a raucous Austen short story, from her juvenilia, Love & Freindship. What led you to make this switch in titles? (I do want to register one official complaint. You’ve now doomed those of us who teach Austen’s Love & Freindship to receive crazy-wrong exam answers on that text from our worst students for years to come.)

WS: Perhaps it is irrational but I always hated the title “Lady Susan” and, as you mention, so far as we know, it was not Jane Austen’s;  the surviving manuscript carries no title (the original binding was chopped off) and she had used “Susan” as the working title for “Northanger Abbey.”  The whole trajectory of Austen’s improved versions of her works was from weak titles, often character names (which I know many film distributors hate as film titles*) toward strong, resonant nouns — either qualities or place names.  “Elinor and Marianne” became Sense and Sensibility, “First Impressions” became Pride and Prejudice, “Susan” became Northanger Abbey. Persuasion and Mansfield Park are similarly sonorous. Continue reading

Love & Friendship — Whit Stillman Brings Jane Austen’s Comic Gem Lady Susan to the Screen

Love & Friendship (2016) poster 2016 x 200The highly anticipated release of Love & Friendship, filmmaker Whit Stillman’s new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, arrives this Friday, May 13 in Los Angeles, New York and Paris with national release set for May 27, 2016. Early praise for the film is more than encouraging: “FLAT-OUT-HILARIOUS. Jane Austen has never been funnier.” – The Telegraph; “Whit Stillman and English novelist Jane Austen make for a delightful pairing in this comedy of manners.” – The Star.com; “Kate Beckinsale magnetizes the screen.” – Variety.

We have long been a champion of Austen’s Lady Susan. So much so we dedicated an entire blog event to it in 2009, A Soiree with Lady Susan. For those who have not read this delightfully wicked novella by Austen written in the 1790’s and published posthumously in 1871, I highly recommend it. Besides changing the title to Love and Friendship, (also the title of one of Austen’s juvenilia), Stillman has added his movie magic and adapted the story into a screenplay.

Here is a description from the distributor Roadside Attractions:

Humorous and witty, devious and scheming, or Downton Abbey with laughs, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is an adaptation of young Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, believed to have been written in the mid 1790s but revised up to a fair copy prepared in 1805 and finally published by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, in 1871. Continue reading

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – A Review

After being introduced to Jane Austen’s Lady Susan via A Soiree with Lady Susan, Austenprose’s rollicking cyber group read, replete with wagging tongues and fluttering fans, I delighted in discovering this ‘most accomplished Coquette in England’.  So different from other Austen heroines, I welcomed her all the more for her flagrant flaws and mercenary machinations.  Regretfully, as Jane Austen never got the chance to revise this novella, the limitations of the epistolary form did leave me with a desire for more. 

Enter Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway’s novel Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, which certainly fulfills this desire… and more!  This clever re-imagining by a mother and daughter team turns my previous notion about this heroine on its head.  It intriguingly opens with an Austen inspired witticism: 

A woman with neither property nor fortune must ward off this affliction by cultivating the beauty, brilliance, and accomplishment that will blind a promising suitor to the want of a dowry.  When she is securely married… she must never sink to complacency, but always keep sharp, for it may be her unfortunate lot to survive her spouse and she will be thrown back upon her wits once more. 

Thus, the stage is set.  Antedating where Austen’s story begins, the novel unfolds with a credible backstory that explains why Lady Susan’s reputation as an accomplished coquette springs from malicious gossip gone awry.  Born Susan Martin, who from the cradle has been matched to her young, wealthy, and titled cousin Sir James Martin, she chooses, instead, to marry the much older and recently knighted Sir Frederick Vernon.  Becoming Lady Vernon, she inadvertently makes an enemy of Mr. Charles Vernon, her husband’s younger brother whose suit she categorically rejected.  Hell hath no fury like a man scorned!  He slovenly casts aspersions on Lady Vernon’s character that, like all gossip, assumes a life of its own. When Sir Frederick dies with the understanding that Charles would provide for his wife and daughter as he had stipulated, the embittered Charles reneges on his verbal promises.  Driven out of their home by Charles and his insipid and gullible wife, Catherine De Courcy, Lady Vernon and her daughter, Frederica, rely on the generosity of friends who place them in compromising situations that escalate the rumors.  Lady Vernon is forced to endure the advances of the married Mr. Manwaring.  Frederica is expelled from school for her kind-hearted gesture to save a friend from a ruinous elopement.  Untenable, they return to Charles’ home and confront him with his responsibility, which he continues to evade.  When Reginald De Courcy, Catherine’s brother, curiously arrives to meet the infamous Lady Vernon, the winds of persecution start to shift.  Lady Vernon maintains the protective façade of her coquetry, but underneath, her uncanny understanding of human nature and social manipulations allow her to find a way out of their financially dire situation.  Using the “most effective method of persuading both Reginald and Catherine to do anything, which was to urge them in the opposite direction”, Frederica is sent off to the forbidding estate of the De Courcy’s.  Will Lady Vernon’s gamble pay-off or just put shy Frederica in a more precarious situation?  Compounded with the return of the rebuffed Sir James Martin, a frivolous man who delights in flouting society’s expectations and making mischief, will Lady Vernon and Frederica’s pursuit for matrimonial bliss be thwarted forever?

Although I loved Lady Susan as a villain, I loved Lady Vernon more as a heroine.  Frederica, who was barely given a voice in Austen’s original oeuvre, deservedly receives her full heroine due in this re-telling.  It departs materially from Austen’s plot at certain points, but its prose and humor are so reminiscent of Austen that it is meaty enough to satisfy.  Both Lady Vernon and Frederica, echoing the trials of sister tandems Elinor-Marianne and Lizzie-Jane (albeit here as mother-daughter), are imbued with similar wit, strength, and resiliency that we have come to love in Austen’s beloved heroines.  Lady Vernon’s unerring wit outwitting a fickle society obsessed with gossip keeps this novel fresh for a modern audience whose inquiring minds want to know.  Peppered with allusion to and appearance of several characters from Austen’s other canons truly make this novel a delicious read.  So, read it not just once, for its story; not just twice, for its spin of the original work; but perhaps thrice, for all the other witty winks to Austen.  After all, there is no such thing as having too much Austen in the daily diet.

Review by Regency Romantic

5 out of 5 Regency stars

Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Crown Publishing, New York (2009)
Hardcover (328) pages
ISBN:  987-0307461667

Additional Reviews

Read a guest blog from A Soiree with Lady Susan by Jane Rubino & Cailten Rubino-Bradway

‘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! 

PRIZE WINNERS 

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 

THE END

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.

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

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: The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post

The old General Post Office in Lombard Street, London

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 Narrator, The Conclusion, Lady Susan

The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post 

At Jane Austen’s World

As the characters in Jane Austen’s epistolary novella Lady Susan send each other a flurry of letters, I was curious how they got to their destinations and how long it would take to send a letter from the Vernon’s residence at Churchill 30 miles to London. Vic (Ms Place) of Jane Austen’s World blog can always answer all my historical questions, and has kindly written about the Postal Service in Britain as a three part series:  1) Letters and the Penny-Post, 2) Post Roads and Post Boys, and 3) John Palmer and the Royal Mail Coach. 

You can enjoy the first segement, The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post, and the next two will follow shortly. Thanks Vic for keeping us so well informed about all things Georgian & Regency. 

Part 2 – The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Post Roads and Post-Boys

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
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.

Musings 

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

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.

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 09 – Sep 9       LS Group Read – Letters 23-33
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.

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Guest Blog with Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway authors of Lady Vernon and her Daughter

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter: A Novel of Jane Austen's Lady Susan, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (2009)There are some great writers who wrote too much. There are others who wrote enough. There are yet others who wrote nothing like enough to satisfy their admirers, and Jane Austen is certainly one of these. Margaret Drabble 

I love this quote by Austen scholar Margaret Drabble. It is the opening line of her introduction to the 1974 edition the Penguin Classics Lady Susan, The Watson’s and Sandition, long before the Austen sequel industry would become its own book genre. Little did she know that other writers would take the next step to satisfy Austen admirers.  Thirty-five years later, we have literally hundreds of prequels, sequels, spinoffs and continuations to choose from. Most are inspired by Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice. Proportionally – too many. So when I read the announcement last March of a new novel Lady Vernon and her Daughter based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, my heart leapt. A fresh concept! I knew of only one other sequel based on Lady Susan written by Phyllis Ann Karr in 1980, and long out of print. It was past time for Lady Susan to have her turn again. The authors, appropriately a mother-daughter team, Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway have graciously offered this guest blog during ‘A Soirée with Lady Susan’ to share their insights about Lady Susan and their inspiration to write a new novel based on Jane Austen’s novella. 

Welcome Jane and Caitlen 

Lady Susan is the title character of an early epistolary work written by Jane Austen in the early- to mid-1790s. Lady Susan Vernon is a beautiful young widow, a “dangerous creature” and “the most accomplished coquette in England.” In a series of letters, principally between Lady Susan and her friend, Alicia Johnson, and Lady Susan’s sister-in-law Catherine Vernon and Catherine’s mother, Lady deCourcy, we extract a portrait of a woman of pleasure, flirting with three admirers while disarming her wary in-laws and arranging a loveless marriage for her daughter. It’s a work that’s difficult to characterize; it is too sophisticated to be considered juvenilia, and it isn’t a fragment; yet, while it’s a complete work, it isn’t a fully realized novel. 

It is not unlikely that some inspiration for Lady Susan came from the sensational French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which appeared in England in the decade before Lady Susan was written. The Marquise de Merteuil’s, “…it seems to me scarcely possible for a woman who is offered such a golden chance – with so little risk – to reduce a male to despair could resist indulging in such a treat” is not very different in sentiment from Lady Susan’s, “There is an exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person pre-determined to dislike acknowledge one’s superiority.” The Marquise’s contempt for the youthful affection of Cecile and Danceny resembles Lady Susan’s disdain for her daughter’s admiration of Reginald deCourcy, and Lady Susan’s scheme to force Frederica to marry Sir James is as coldly calculating as the Marquise’s plot to have Valmont seduce Cecile. 

Jane Rubino had written a contemporary mystery series, and happened to be reading Lady Susan at the time she was thinking of writing a second series. The “Lady Susan mysteries” were quickly abandoned, and we began discussing turning the work into a historical novel with elements of mystery; that plan gave way to reconstructing the work – converting an epistolary novel to a third person narrative, as Austen revised Elinor and Marianne into Sense and Sensibility. In fact, we discovered a number of similarities between Lady Susan and Sense and Sensibility.  There are the dual heroines, dual romances, and a mother and daughter(s) displaced when the family estate passes to an heir.  We decided to approach the book as a “what if Jane Austen had revised Lady Susan, as she had done with Elinor and Marianne”? 

In order to conform to Austen’s canon, we resolved to use Austen’s novels as our primary reference.  Austen’s heroines are flawed, but not malicious, so Lady Susan became a sympathetic character. Her conduct is not radically altered, but is motivated by economy, rather than “exquisite pleasure” – with that in mind Lady Susan became Lady Vernon.  While there are supporting players in Austen’s canon who are widows of independent means – Lady Catherine deBourgh, Mrs. Jennings, Lady Russell – Austen’s widows are more likely to be anywhere from women of modest means to downright indigent – Mrs. Dashwood, Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Norris, Mrs. Thorpe. Austen’s heroines, moreover, are not women of high rank, and to have Susan Vernon the daughter of an earl (as suggested by that “Lady Susan”, but never stated in the work) would have taken her out of that tier from which Austen’s heroines are drawn. 

The format, of course, had to go – the novel-in-letters is unwieldy – but we converted as much of the letters as we could into dialogue or exposition.  The use of letters was retained, however, as Austen frequently used letters to advance the plot, or reveal critical information. There are the letters of Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice, Isabella Thorpe’s self-centered correspondence to Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey, and, of course, Frederick Wentworth’s proposal in Persuasion

Finally, we decided to dedicate Lady Vernon and Her Daughter to one of Caitlen’s favorite professors, Mary Ann Macartney.  While Jane has always been an Austen devotee, Caitlen’s love of Austen really developed in college, in an intensive Austen seminar.  Ten Austen fans in a small room every other day will fuel your fanaticism no matter what, but it was Dr. Macartney’s passion and attention to detail that really inspired Caitlen.   Our dedication is a small way of saying thanks for hers. 

Thank you Jane and Caitlen for joining us today. Lady Vernon and her Daughter is one of my most highly anticipated Austen inspired novels of the year. It is due out on the 6th of October and available for pre-order today. 

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Day 7 Giveaway 

Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (Crown Publishing Group) 2009 

Leave a comment by September 13th to qualify for the free drawing on September 14th for one copy of Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (US residents only) 

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 08 – Sep 8            Morgan Library Jane Austen Exhibit
Day 09 – Sep 9            LS Group Read – Letters 23-33
Day 10 – Sep 10          LS Quotes & Quips
Day 11 – Sep 11          Guest blog – Regency Letter Writing

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 Regency Stars 

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

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Day 6 Giveaway 

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks), read by Harriet Walter, Carole Boyd, Kim Hicks and cast (2001) 

Leave a comment by September 13th to qualify for the free drawing on September 14th for one of three copies of the Naxos AudioBooks recording of Lady Susan, by Jane Austen (US residents only) 

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
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
Day 10 – Sep 10      LS Quotes & Quips