Lady Susan is my favorite of Jane Austen’s minor works. A scheming widow who also happens to be “the most accomplished coquette in England,” Lady Susan Vernon is intelligent, attractive, and unscrupulous, agreeing with her immoral friend Alicia Johnson that “Facts are such horrid things!” (256) Her letters to Alicia detail her plans to snare wealthy husbands for both herself and her daughter Frederica while causing pain and suffering to those she deems detestable. As she includes her own daughter in this camp, calling her a “stupid girl,” she has no qualms in forcing Frederica to marry a decidedly silly man with a large fortune. Lady Susan is a terrible person, but a wonderful character. While the novella lacks the depth of later works, it is a wickedly funny short story in epistolary form; its tone is reminiscent of the snarky comments found in many of Austen’s letters.
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?
Writer, director, and friend of Jane Austen, Stillman has written a companion novel to the film also entitled Love & Friendship with the added subtitle: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated.
For those who have read Austen’s original novella, you will remember that Lady Susan Vernon is described by Reginald De Courcy as “the most accomplished coquette in England.” and by others as devious, wicked and “with a happy command of language, which is too often used, I believe, to make black appear white.” To vindicate her scurrilous behavior is an intriguing premise indeed!
Love & Friendship, the novel, is told from the perspective of a new character, Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca, Lady Susan’s nephew. His voice throughout the book is very Austenesque, with tongue-in-cheek humor and inside Austen jokes that will delight Janeites.
The 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.
Anyone who lived through the 1980’s can not hear the term Preppy and not smile! For the rest of you young things who were just a twinkle in your parents eyes, take notice and rent the movie Metropolitan, writer, director and producer Whit Stillman’s witty take on the WASP subculture of young upper-class Manhattanites as they spend their Christmas holiday attending debutant balls and discussing the downward social mobility of the upper class. It will fill you in on many of the cultural references that you might hear from your parent’s or their friends, and give you a good laugh at the 1980’s women’s fashions that today, just look downright overstated and clownish.
(Let’s hope that 1980’s fashion does not resurface soon!)
I adore this film for its clever, snarky dialogue, gentle irony and Jane Austen references. The parallels between her novel Mansfield Park and Metropolitan have been debated by critics and even included in the essay ‘From Mansfield to Manhattan: The Abandoned Generation of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan’ by R. V. Young which can be downloaded in PDF here. The heroine of the film is Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), a shy upper-class socialite who falls for middle-class Tom Townsend (Edward Clements). She is a Jane Austen admirer and the two of them have an interesting conversation about her favorite author and literature.
Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget
Audrey: “I read that Lionel Trilling essay you mentioned. You really like Trilling?”
Audrey: “I think he’s very strange. He says that nobody could like the heroine of Mansfield Park? I like her.
Then he goes on and on about how we modern people of today with our modern attitudes, bitterly resent Mansfield Park because…its heroine is virtuous? What’s wrong with a novel having a virtuous heroine?”
Tom: “His point is that the novel’s premise…there’s something immoral in a group of young people putting on a play? Simply absurd.”
Audrey: “You found Fannie Price unlikeable?”
Tom: “She sounds pretty unbearable, but I haven’t read the book.”
Tom: “You don’t have to have read a book to have an opinion on it. I haven’t read the Bible, either.”
Audrey: “What Jane Austen novels have you read?”
Tom: “None. I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelist’s ideas as well as the critic’s thinking. With fiction, I can never forget that none of it ever happened; that it’s all just made up by the author.”
Edward Clements as Tom Townsend
This independent film was produced on a shoe-string budget and used unknown actors, notably Taylor Nichols as Charlie Black the angst ridden intellectual Woody Allen type and Chris Eigeman (who I adore and just think is the most under used actor in Hollywood) as the cynical and smug Nick Smith. This film is grouped together as the Stillman trilogy which also includes Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco (1998), another favorite of mine which is unfortunately not available to purchase, rent or steal!
Chris Eigeman as Nick Smith
Further viewing & reading
Watch the entire film on streaming video on Hulu.com (US residents only)