Posted by Ann on July 17, 1997 at 12:56:53:
No one seems to be discussing Lady Susan, so I will try to prime the pump a bit. I admit Lady Susan is deliciously evil!
My take on the first four letters:
Right off the bat it is obvious that Lady Susan is not like the usual Austen heroine. She blatantly invites herself to her brother’s house, insisting that she must not be refused. She sounds very obliging and pleasant, but we see that she apparently never paid the customary visit to her brother at or near the time of his marriage, and has not seen him in such time as to allow him to have multiple children. But she does certainly write very well and her words are pleasing, filled with all of the expected emotions. Her words seem at odds with her actions.
The first few sentences show an abrupt departure from the first letter. Where her first letter was ingratiating, this one is blunt and contains sentiments not even hinted at before. The fact that she says she spent three of the most agreeable months in her life and immediately thereafter says that nothing goes smoothly, shows that Austen’s irony will be alive and well in this novella. I love the delicious irony of the sentence where she introduces the gentlemen Manwaring and Sir James--she claims to be living quietly as a good widow should, by only attracting Manwaring, then she adds Sir James to the list as well. Certainly she is living quietly; a widow of only four months intentionally attracting two men at the same time!
We soon learn that one of the men is caught up by her in order to break him from another relationship and point him in the direction of Frederica, LS’s daughter. This is our first glimpse of the cunning, conniving side of LS, and also the anger and contempt which she shows her daughter. We then hear that not only is this widow going after Sir James, a seemingly already attached young man, but Mr. Manwaring also is not only attached to another woman, he is married to her--and the wife is the lady of the house. Not even Lydia Bennet would be so vulgar!
Near the end of the letter, we learn about her relationship with its recipient--they are on intimate terms, but Mrs. Johnson’s husband appears to dislike LS. We also read that all of Lady Susan’s words in the previous letter were entirely false. She despises the idea of visiting her brother and his wife, and only does so because there is no where else she can go. The letter ends with the information that LS is poor, but is perfectly willing to incur debts without any intention of ever paying them.
This is the first letter from someone other than Lady Susan. It is written by the woman Lady Susan has just said she fears--her brother’s wife, and the hostess of the house where she will soon be staying. Mrs. Vernon shows that she is as little pleased by the prospect of having LS in the house, as LS is in being there. Despite the hostess’ displeasure at receiving Lady Susan, it seems the host is more favorably disposed towards her ladyship, or a least more forgiving of LS’s reputation. Of that reputation we learn a few particular details: “inexcusably artful and ungenerous”, “those attractive powers for which she is celebrated”, and “this captivating Lady Susan”. If we have doubts as to whether this is merely the view of Mrs. Vernon, a woman who dislikes LS, and may therefore be mostly fabrication, we have the previous letter as a guide. We have seen from Lady Susan’s own hand that her reputation seems justified. This is not a woman you would want in your house, yet she is to come to Churchill.
The fourth letter is from the brother of the lady who has just given such an ugly account of Lady Susan, and is addressed to his sister. Reginald begins by saying that both Lady Susan and himself are flirts, but goes on to draw a line between “that honest sort of flirtation that satisfies most people”, in which he takes part, and the kind of flirtation that takes “delicious gratification” in inciting anger and jealousy among those caught in a coquette’s wake. He can supply details to the rumors and reputation surrounding Lady Susan, and basically informs his sister of the behaviour we have recently heard described by LS herself. We learn more about Reginald from his enthusiasm to meet this intriguing coquette, and are told that Lady Susan no longer has the bloom of youth to her advantage, but “possesses a degree of captivating deceit”. We are then told that Frederica is a dull and proud girl, who has the misfortune to unite these aspects with stupidity.
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