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.


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

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

Lady Susan: Group Read Letters 1-11: Summary, Musings & Discussion: Day Two Giveaway

Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition ( Oxford World's Classics) 2008We are now in a sad state; no house was ever more altered; the whole party are at war, and Manwaring scarcely dares speak to me. It is time for me to be gone. Lady Susan, Letter 2

Quick Synopsis 

Lady Susan accepts her brother-in-law Charles Vernon’s invitation to Churchill. She will deposit her daughter Frederica at a school in London. She reveals to her friend Alicia Johnson that even her discretion with Manwaring and an innocent flirtation with Sir James Martin have turned all the females of Langford against her and she must leave. Against her wishes, Frederica is violently opposed to marrying Sir James. Mrs. Vernon writes to her mother Lady De Courcy  suspicious of Lady Susan’s motives. Reginald De Courcy writes to his sister Mrs. Vernon revealing gossip about why Lady Susan left Langford intrigued to meet the most accomplished coquette in England. Lady Susan writes to her friend Alicia wary of Mrs. Vernon who holds a grudge against her, missing Manwaring. Mrs. Vernon writes to her brother Reginald revealing that Lady Susan is sweet and mild and can turn black into white. Lady Susan writes to her friend Alicia advising her not to waste her attentions on stupid Frederica, confident that Sir James will marry her. Reginald De Courcy arrives promising some amusement. Mrs. Vernon writes to her mother Lady De Courcy concerned for her brother’s attentions to Lady Susan. How could he forgive and be so duped? Mrs. Johnson writes to her friend Lady Susan advising her to marry De Courcy, an heir to a fortune. Lady Susan replies to Mrs. Johnson that she is not interested, and is not in want of money, though she actually is. She is smug about her conversion of his ill opinion. Mrs. Vernon writes to her mother Lady De Courcy alarmed at her brother’s reversal and regretting that Lady Susan ever entered her house.


From the very start we are suspicious of Lady Susan. Her reasons for the visit to her brother-in-law Charles Vernon’s home seem weak. She wants to get to know his wife and children? The letter is short and reveals little. The real truth begins to unfold in her letter to her friend Alicia where she spills the real reasons for her change of residence – even though she claims discretion with Manwaring and a mild flirtation with Sir James Martin, all the females in the house are against her and are at war! When she makes a chiding remark about not liking the country, we know that Jane Austen was sending a clue as to what direction the novel would take.

I take London in my way to that insupportable spot, a country village; for I am really going to Churchill. Forgive me, my dear friend, it is my last resource. Lady Susan, Letter 2

Jane Austen loved the country and was anxious to return to it when she was in Town. For her heroine to make such a cynical remark is not a gentle irony. It is a giant red flag for us to be wary. She has presented a character that will appose her own, and society’s values, who explains her affair with Manwaring matter-of-factly, and her reason for flirting Sir James Martin away from Maria Manwaring for the benefit of her daughter. Lady Susan is an adulteress and a manipulator who has been found out and expelled by the two women who she has maligned; forced to take refuge in her in-laws home, her last resource. Mrs. Vernon is introduced as a practical woman who is suspicious of Lady Susan’s reasons for her visit to Churchill. They have a history so we are also suspicious of her. Lady Susan opposed her marriage to her brother-in-law and has been “inexcusably artful and ungenerous since our marriage.” Does she hold a grudge? Who is telling the truth? Each of the two letters has both ladies revealing their concerns and objections to their confidants. Lady Susan’s unguarded explanation to her friend is flip and cynical. Mrs. Vernon on the other hand, attempts to be more eloquent and genuine. Austen has set up an interesting paradox.

My dear Sister,–I congratulate you and Mr. Vernon on being about to receive into your family the most accomplished coquette in England. Reginald De Courcy, Letter 4

This is our introduction to Mrs. Vernon’s brother Reginald. Being an admitted flirt himself, he is fascinated to meet a woman whose reputation as an accomplished coquette precedes her. He hears the local gossip from a friend and is eager to believe the worst reasons why she was expelled from Langford, feeding upon it with fervor. “[S]he does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable.” Only a similar personality would be piqued by such disreputable conduct. The combination of the two characters could play out interestingly. Is he a younger version of Lady Susan intrigued to learn her seduction secrets and bewitching powers?

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

We begin to form opinions of the characters from their descriptions of events and their reactions to each other, and most importantly, who they are writing to. Lady Susan is all guarded sweetness to her in-laws and then lets loose with her confidant Mrs. Johnson, who may be as duplicitous as her friend to her husband in regard to her own affair. We are beginning to trust Catherine Vernon as the voice of decency and reason in the novel. Everyone around her seems to be bewitched by Lady Susan and blind to her faults. Her amiable husband gives her money and somewhere to live, and her brother is taken in by her charms, choosing to believe that the stories about her behavior at Langford were a “scandalous invention” totally reversing his objections, and then defending her. Only her parents, influenced by her perspective are on her side. And then, there is poor neglected Frederica. We hear from her mother that she is a stupid girl with nothing to recommend her. Even De Courcy, who has never met her wants to believe the worst. “Where pride and stupidity unite there can be no dissimulation worthy notice.” Only Mrs. Vernon is doubtful that Lady Susan has been a good mother, neglecting and bulling her child. Our confidence in her rose sharply when she told her mother that she grieves Lady Susan ever entered her house. There’s hope.

Further reading

A Soirée with Lady Susan: Day 2 Giveaway

Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition, by Jane Austen (Oxford World’s Classics), introduction by Claudia L. Johnson (2008)

Leave a comment by September 13th to qualify for the free drawing on September 14th for one copy of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition, by Jane Austen (US residents only)

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 03 – Sept 3           On the Trail of Lady Susan
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

© 2009 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose