top of page

Austen-Curious Reader: Pt. 1 of "Lady Susan"

By Eden Iazeolla

First, a few friendly reminders - don't forget to register for JASP2023. We have so many fun things in store! Middle- and high-school teachers get reduced rates, as do K-12 students. First time attendees get a "welcome" discount when they use FIRSTJASP2023 at checkout. And there are still a few budget-friendly dorm rooms available. Secure your spot today!

Remember you can also order your books from the Jane Austen Bookstore, and have copies of books by our speakers delivered to you at JASP for signing. The bookstore won't be physically at the symposium this year, so take advantage of their virtual offerings!


Hello to all my Brilliant Jane Austen Juvenilia Enthusiasts!

I am incredibly excited to be back writing to you this week, and especially excited to get started on Jane Austen’s last piece of Juvenilia, “Lady Susan.” For this week’s blog, we are only covering the first 19 letters of “Lady Susan.” Now, I fully understand that we could have done it all in one go, but, selfishly, I wanted to keep all of you here for just a little longer.

So far, in this epistolary novella, we have been introduced to the brilliant and masterful Lady Susan, who is a woman seeking “refuge” at her brother-in-law's home after relations with some of her previous hosts, the Manwarings of Langford, went sour. Through 19 letters, we have been given an abundance of characterization of who Lady Susan is and what actually happened at Langford. After reading the various characters’ accounts of Lady Susan and her own account of herself, I find it hard not to characterize Lady Susan as the villain of the novella.

In her letters to her close confidant, Mrs. Johnson, Lady Susan utilizes language to describe herself in a manner that paints her as being the “perfect” woman. She refers to herself as having been “as amiable as possible” upon meeting her brother-in-law's wife, Mrs. Vernon. This word "amiable" never seems to go away in Austen’s work, and at this point, I think we can conclude that Austen’s use of amiable is even more insincere than those attempting to display amiability like Lady Susan here. In her letters, Lady Susan also claims qualities such as “grace and manner” to be incredibly important to her, which sparks her distaste for her own daughter, Frederica, who lacks those traits in her eyes. However, Lady Susan’s letters also expose her true intentions, changing our perspective on her.

For instance, in letter 7, Lady Susan writes to Mrs. Johnson about her conduct after Frederica rejects a proposal made to her. She writes,

Some mothers would have insisted on their own daughter’s accepting so good an offer

on the first overture; but I could not reconcile it to 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 she does accept him – but enough of this tiresome girl.

In this passage, Lady Susan attempts to make herself seem as though she is good and “tender” by not forcing her daughter into a marriage. However, ironically, she plans to force Frederica into the marriage anyways by forcing her to stay at a boarding school. As one can see, Lady Susan is not the best at matching her words to her actions. To further this, her comment at the end only provides more evidence of Lady Susan’s lack of manners by making hostile comments about her own daughter to a friend. Lady Susan’s claims of generosity or kindness are simply a cover to gain approval or acceptance from others. I would say that the correct way to characterize Lady Susan’s intentions and actions would be to call them malicious or self-serving.

"Love and Friendship" the film adaptation of "Lady Susan"

In Lady Susan’s character, Austen makes a lovely mockery out of the expectations of women in the 18th century, which were often defined by conduct books. She does this through making Lady Susan act as though she embodies these expectations, when in reality, Lady Susan is doing quite the opposite. In one way, the mockery Austen is offering here could be construed as an exaggeration of the ridiculousness of these expectations. However, in another way, it can also be construed as showing the disingenuousness that these expectations can create. Something that we talked about in the “Austen-Curious Reader” blog covering “Love and Friendship.”

Funnily enough, as we have explored all of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, it is not a far stretch to claim that one of the villains of Jane Austen’s own life story are these conduct books. Her mockery of and skepticism about these texts never stops. She offers more explicit mockery of the books in Sense and Sensibility, where she portrays Marianne Dashwood as a character heavily influenced by the romantic and sentimental ideas espoused in contemporary conduct books, which causes her to suffer emotionally. It has been fun to see the sparks of brilliance and social satire begin at such a young age for Austen.

An Inquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex by Thomas Gisborne

One of the other fun aspects of reading through the Juvenilia as we have been doing is seeing where Austen’s ideas have started to become more mature. I believe that Lady Susan is a character that embodies this idea. Not only is Lady Susan one of Austen’s older characters in the Juvenilia, but she is also a mother. In addition, one might say that Austen paints Lady Susan as a temptress, who is well aware of what she does to men. It was delightful to read about how Lady Susan operates.

One of my favorite letters is where Lady Susan is telling Mrs. Johnson about her relationship with Mr. De Courcy and Mr. Manwaring. She writes “Manwaring is indeed, beyond all compare, superior to Reginald – superior in everything but the power of being with me! Poor fellow!” To put some context to this letter, Lady Susan is saying that she prefers a married man over a single man. Like this example, throughout the novella Austen is seen sprinkling some intrigue and taboo elements into the text, ones that we have not seen in the Juvenilia so far. Let’s just say, we have come a long way from “The Beautifull Cassandra.” Stealing ices is a far cry from stealing husbands!

I am excited to keep reading “Lady Susan” and see how Lady Susan’s story comes to an end. This being said, for May 15th we will be finishing up “Lady Susan” as we wrap up our trip through Jane Austen’s Juvenilia (insert sad face here). I hope to see you all there!

If you have any questions about the upcoming book club, please feel free to comment down below or dm us on any Jane Austen Summer Program social media. And as always, if you have any “Lady Susan” related thoughts or tidbits, please share!

I also wanted to let everyone know that the registration for JASP is still open BUT the dorm accommodations are limited, so snag your spot ASAP, so you can be involved in all the fun.

As always, we will be posting updates and reminders on the book club and all things JASP on here. You can find us on Instagram (@Janeaustensummer), twitter (@jaustensummer), and Facebook (@janeaustensummerprogram). AND, we just started a JASP TikTok, so if you are in need more JA and more JASP, please check that out (@janeaustensummerprogram)!




bottom of page