Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Lady Susan by Jane Austen is a short novel written in the form of letters until the conclusion where the author takes over.  Lady Susan is the widow of Mr. Vernon’s brother, and she has a daughter named, Frederica, whom Lady Susan believes needs more schooling and is better off in the care of others.  Lady Susan has a rather sultry reputation in society as a woman who flirts relentlessly and may even take it too far for polite society.

“She is really excessively pretty.  However you may choose to question the allurements of a lady no longer young, I must for my own part declare that I have seldom seen so lovely a woman as Lady Susan.”  (page 49)

What is truth and what is fiction about Lady Susan is tough to discern as each character’s opinion of her becomes more fluid, changing as new situations and information come to light.  She comes to live with her brother-in-law and his wife, Catherine, whom she tried to prevent from marrying her husband’s brother.  Once in Churchill, she meets Catherine’s brother Reginald, who already has a negative opinion of her, and she takes on the challenge of changing his mind, though to outsiders it looks as though she is flirting and making romantic inroads with him.  Enter Frederica, and her “lover” Sir James Martin.  The stage is set for great drama and entanglements.

“Her behavior to him, independent of her general character, has been so inexcusably artful and ungenerous since out marriage was first in agitation, that no one less amiable and mild than himself could have overlooked it at all; and though as his brother’s widow and in narrow circumstances it was proper to render her pecuniary assistance, I cannot help thinking his pressing invitation to her to visit us at Churchill perfectly unnecessary.”  (page 46)

Unlike Austen’s other novels and unfinished pieces, Lady Susan is not the typical heroine because she lives on the outskirts of society and enjoys herself in many ways.  She’s conniving in her machinations to find a match for her daughter, convince others of her propriety and social graces, and rightness of her decisions.  She is not a character that many readers will like or even come to like, but Austen seems to be using her negative personality traits to illustrate the machinations that are often done behind the scenes in Regency society as mothers seek husbands for their daughters and widows seeks to find another husband at an advanced age.

Overall, Lady Susan is an ambitious short novel that attempts to tackle society from a different angle.  Rather than place the young ladies eligible for husbands at the center of a (sort-of) conceit in which Lady Susan is the opposite of well-mannered society women and the men in her life are not in control of the situation nor their emotions.  Austen has tackled another difficult aspect of Regency society.

***I’ve wanted to read this novel since Anna embarked on her journey to read all of Austen’s works.***

This is my 2nd book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.

Interested in my other reviews of Austen’s unfinished novels, check out The Watsons and Sanditon.


  1. If your interest was piqued by Lady Susan you just must pick up Lady Vernon and Her Daughter – it came out pretty recently – maybe a year ago – written by a mother and daughter. It is a full length novel that revisits Lady Susan Vernon written in the style of Jane Austen and a different ‘take’ on Lady Susan Vernon and Frederica. My favorite of the batch of new Austen novels.

  2. I havent read this one yet, and Im a big fan of Austen’s.

    • I think if you love Austen that you should check this one out because its different than her other novels…though it is shorter and written mostly in letter form.

  3. Lady Susan sure does love being naughty! You can’t really like her, but she’s so entertaining. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • She is very naughty, but even though she is, her sister-in-law is no paragon of virtue either. It’s interesting that Austen would choose Lady Susan as the main heroine.

  4. The format of this book sounds unusual, but in a good way! You’ve piqued my interest.