by Austen, Jane
Written During 1790s, Published in 1871
Various Editions Available In Print and Electronically
In the New Millennium, most of us find Jane Austen’s style of writing difficult. That’s no excuse for neglecting to read her work, though.
This past week I read Lady Susan, a series of letters between six characters, set over a short period of time. The character at the center of the story, a sixteen year-old girl named Frederica, does not contribute in writing, so the reader’s impressions of her rely on others’ observations.
Some details in this book are not open to dispute. For example, the moral character of Frederica’s mother, Lady Susan Vernon, is not in question. She’s an ambitious schemer who is incapable of empathy. However, when we read any literary fiction, we should be ready to keep our minds open. Don’t be too quick to oversimplify anything.
Lady Susan may be less subtle than Miss Austen’s later books (Disclaimer: I still haven’t read a lot of the author’s work, so I’m going out on a limb here). However, it should be taken seriously as a depiction of what happens between people with varying levels of self-awareness and streetsmarts. Always remember that when a character in a book says something, that one character’s frame of reference dominates. Some narrators are more reliable than others. That’s human.
The Dover paperback edition of this book (ISBN-13: 978-0-486-44407-9) is sixty-four pages long, with an excerpt from A Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew, J. E. Austen Leigh.
If you read this novel, if possible finish reading the original work and ponder it a bit before referring to any study guides. The book has been rewritten by at least three authors since, but it’s best to start with Miss Austen’s story.