Autograph manuscript, written ca. 1794–95 and transcribed in fair copy soon after 1805
Purchased in 1947
Lady Susan Vernon is the eponymous antihero of Austen's romantic black comedy. Sophisticated, seductive, and amoral, she is characterized by the scholar Marilyn Butler as "a cruising shark in her social goldfish pond." The narrative focuses on the recently widowed Susan's strategic attempts to achieve advantageous marriages for herself and her shy but intractable daughter, Frederica. Her letters, written to multiple recipients, eventually reveal the full extent of her manipulative and duplicitous character. Austen's ironic social observation is sharp and witty and, according to the scholar Christine Alexander, Lady Susan combines "all the free-ranging energy" of Austen's juvenilia "with the polish and sophistication of her later writing."
it has lately fallen in my way to hear some par:
:ticulars of her conduct at Langford, which prove
that she does not confine herself to that sort of
honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but
aspires to the more delicious gratification of making
a whole family miserable. — By her behaviour to
Mr. Mainwaring, she gave jealousy & wretchedness to his
wife, & by her attentions to a young man previously
attached to Mr. Mainwaring's sister deprived an a:
:miable girl of her Lover. — I learnt all this from
a Mr. Smith now in this neighbourhood — (I have
dined with him at Hurst & Wilford) — who is just
come from Langford, where he was a fortnight in
the house with her Ladyship, & who is therefore
well qualified to make the communication. —
What a Woman she must be! — I long to see her,
& shall certainly accept your kind invitation, that I
may form some idea of those bewitching powers which can
do so much — engaging at the same time & in the
Images provided by DIAMM on behalf of Jane Austen’s Holograph Fiction MSS: A Digital and Print Edition.
Recording of Lady Susan courtesy of Naxos AudioBooks.