(I apologize if this review is a bit of a mess, I wrote it after 3 hours of sleep making up for the readathon).
Lady Susan – Jane Austen
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I have started reading some of the minor works by Jane Austen. I was hesitant about it at first. There is something about picking up the last novel written by one of your favourite authors, and I guess this is something similar to me. These minor works are the only things I have not read by her yet, except for the letters. Also, I felt that there are bound to be some disappointments while reading her minor works. Maybe some passages or fragments that just do not work for me, or simply the fact that these are written at a time when Jane Austen is still developing her writing skills? I prepared myself as best as I could for all of the above, and I was not disappointed. I would never proclaim Lady Susan or some of the other things I have read her absolute master pieces, but looking at them with the curious eyes of a reader who knows what she will grow up to become makes reading Lady Susan a worthwhile experience. Not that I think it is for everyone, surely those who don’t feel strongly about Austen’s work will skip this epistolary novel and her other minor works.
Lady Susan is a short novel written in the form of letters. The story revolves around Lady Susan, who is scheming to find a husband for herself and her daughter.
And when I say scheming, I do mean in the worst possible sense. In my opinion, what makes Lady Susan so interesting to read is that Lady Susan herself is what would’ve been considered a wicked woman. She is selfish, consciously tries to attach men to her by giving false impressions in hope of acquiring a fortune, she has suitors half her age and she has relations with married men.
I cannot easily resolve on anything so serious as marriage; especially as I am not at present in want of money, and might perhaps, till the old gentleman’s death, be very little benefited by the match. It is true that I am vain enough to believe it within my reach. I have made him sensible of my power, and can now enjoy the pleasure of triumphing over a mind prepared to dislike me, and prejudiced against all my actions.
Her worst flaw, or what was bound to be considered as such at the time, is sure to be her self-assertion, her constant expression of wanting and taking measures into her own hands. Surely, that does not fit the passive woman stereotype of that time?
Her treatment of her daughter is also sure to raise eyebrows throughout the novel. I could not help but feel sorry for the girl, the only person in the whole novel that I could feel sorry for, because even if Lady Susan is the worst of the lot, all of them are gossiping and scheming persons. For example, in the beginning of the novel Lady Susan writes the following about her daughter to her friend:
Upon the whole, I commend my own conduct in this affair extremely, and regard it as a very happy instance of circumspection and tenderness. Some mothers would have insisted on their daughter’s accepting so good an offer on the first overture; but I could not reconcile myself to force Frederica into a marriage from which her heart revolted, and instead of adopting so harsh a measure merely propose to make it her own choice, by rendering her thoroughly uncomfortable till the does accept him–but enough of this tiresome girl.
I am sure Jane Austen had the conduct of various mothers in mind when she wrote this, as she had when she wrote about such mothers on other occasions, but it is all so much less subtle, described in such a grotesque manner, that it becomes invariably funny.
I admit, I was almost as scandalised as I imagine people would have been back then. Imagining how her close relations would have reacted if she read this to them (not sure if she did, but I imagine so) was a big part of the enjoyment in reading Lady Susan for me. I could see them laughing half embarrassed in my mind.
Lady Susan as a novel has more blatant wit than some of Austen’s well-known works, but it also misses a lot of the sophistication of her later novels. There is little to capture the attention of the readers besides the wit and the scandal inherent to the story. That does not mean it is not a worthwhile read. It is simply different from what some people might expect when they pick this up after reading Pride and Prejudice.
I read the Project Gutenberg version of this text.
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