Jane Austen’s epistolary novel, Lady Susan, was written during Jane Austen’s era of juvenilia. The original manuscript was written in the late 1700s. Jane Austen inhabits a strange time period, wedged between British Romanticism and the Victorian Era. The epistolary novel was a popular novel during the Romantic Era. Jane Austen admired the works of Richardson and Burney, their works such as Pamela and Evelina were written in epistolary form. Letter writing and visiting were the two popular forms of communication during Jane Austen’s era. These novels reflect the popularity of not only letter writing, but the development of form in the novel.
Lady Susan is described by scholars as the heroine of the novel. I would contend that there is no heroine in the novel. If Lady Susan is a heroine, then this novel is a tragedy. With the exception of the last few pages, the novel is mainly comprised of correspondences between the different characters within the novel.
Cast of Characters:
- Lady Susan Vernon
- Mr. Charles Vernon- Lady Susan’s brother-in-law
- Mrs. Catherine Vernon- Lady Susan’s sister-in-law, Charles’ wife
- Reginald De Courcy- Mrs. Catherine Vernon’s brother
- Lady De Courcy- Mrs. Catherine Vernon and Reginald De Courcy’s mother
- Sir Reginald De Courcy- Husband of Lady De Courcy; father of Catherine and Reginald
- Mrs. Alecia Johnson- Lady Susan’s particular friend
- Mr. Johnson- Mrs. Alecia Johnson’s husband
- Miss Frederica Vernon- Lady Susan’s daughter
- Miss Summers- Frederica Vernon’s chaperone
- Sir James Martin- Lady Susan’s intended for Frederica
- Mr. Manwaring- a suspicious relationship exists between Mr. Manwaring and Lady Susan
- Mrs. Manwaring- Mr. Manwaring’s wife
- Miss Manwaring- Mr. and Mrs. Manwaring’s daughter; interested in Sir James Martin
- The narrator
For such a small novel, the cast of characters is surprisingly extensive. Most of the action is a second-hand account of the other character’s actions, as well as their judgemental and prejudicial opinions about them. When the characters give a first-hand account of their own actions they are unreliable and self-important narrators. With the exception of Lady Susan, most of the characters represent themselves as victims of Lady Susan’s powerful and seductive schemes.
Lady Susan is a powerful character. She she has money and she’s a widow. Unlike the other widows in Austen’s other novels, Lady Susan is still has her looks and is relatively young for having a grown up daughter. A woman’s age is a significant problem in Jane Austen’s time. For example, Anne Elliot and Charlotte Lucas were both in their late twenties, losing their looks, with no prospects of marriage. Lady Susan’s case is, however, different. She was married, her husband’s death makes her independently wealthy. She has no man to answer to for her actions, she has no domestic responsibilities, she hardly knows her own daughter. What little her and her daughter know of each other makes them detestable to one another.
Volume 2 0f 3: Moving from the epistolary to free indirect discourse
Volume 3 of 3: Defending Lady Susan as a tragedy
Tagged: Jane Austen, British Romanticism, Charlotte Lucas, Lady Susan, widows, fiction, epistolary novels, free indirect discourse, heroine, Victorian Literature, 18th Century, 1700s, wealth, Anne Elliot, narration