Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, as this was the first novel draft she is known to have completed, Lady Susan is decidedly Jane Austen’s ‘wickedest novel’.
Written between 1793 and 1795, the novella in letter form – a common style in the eighteenth century, used by Fanny Burney amongst other novelists – exposes the most unscrupulous aspects of the contemporary ‘marriage market’ through the efforts of the widowed Lady Susan Vernon to find wealthy husbands for herself and her more virtuous daughter Frederica.
The selfish and manipulative Susan has little affection for her daughter, desiring to marry her off so as to be rid of her, but clearly having her own interest most at heart.
Although the ending describes a rescue of Frederica from her mother and a certain reward for her virtuousness, Lady Susan partially achieves her ambitions without the punishment the reader might expect.
The novella is unmistakably written in the style of Jane Austen, but balances between her more mature writing style and a polished version of the ruthlessness of some of the plots found in her Juvenilia.
Startling and surprising to readers expecting another Persuasion, Lady Susan highlights the barbs of Jane Austen’s wit and the darker side of the social system we know in its Cinderella-like incarnation from Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.
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