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."
her voice & manner winningly mild. — I am sorry
it is so, for what is this but Deceit? — Unfortunately
one knows her too well. — She is clever & agreeable,
has all that knowledge of the world which makes
conversation easy, & talks very well, with a happy
command of language, which is too often used, I believe
to make Black appear White. She has already almost
persuaded me of her being warmly attached to her daugh:
:ter, tho' I have been so long convinced to the contrary.
She speaks of her with so much tenderness & anxiety,
lamenting so bitterly the neglect of her education, which
she represents however as wholly unavoidable, that
I am forced to recollect how many successive springs
her Ladyship spent in Town, while her daughter was
left in Staffordshire to the care of servants, or a
Governess very little better, to prevent my
believing what she says.
If her manners have so great an influence
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.