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."
on my resentful heart, you may judge how much
more strongly they operate on Mr. Vernon's generous
temper. — I wish I could be as well satisfied as
he is, that it was really her choice to leave Lang:
:ford for Churchhill; & if she had not stayed three
months there before she discovered that her friend's
manner of Living did not suit her situation or
feelings, I might have believed that concern for
the loss of such a Husband as Mr. Vernon, to whom
her own behaviour was far from unexceptionable
might for a time make her wish for retirement.
But I cannot forget the length of her visit to
the Mainwarings, & when I reflect on the different
mode of life which she led with them from that
to which she must now submit, I can only sup:
:pose that the wish of establishing her reputation
by following, tho' late, the path of propriety, occa:
:sioned her removal from a family where she must
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.