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Austen image

Jane Austen (1775–1817)
Lady Susan
Autograph manuscript, written ca. 1794–95 and transcribed in fair copy soon after 1805
Purchased in 1947; MA 1226

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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."

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Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.