Lady Susan (1871) by Jane Austen is a short read where the story is told through letters.
I found the structure great firstly. It’s done a good bit but it’s not a structure you see overly regularly so it was refreshing to read a book in this style. I don’t think I’ve ever read a full book in this structure before. The writer in me said this is a challenge Austen took on because it’s difficult to get all the information you need to put across in just letter form. But it works well. I didn’t feel like the reader was left out of the picture about anything going on and you get a great sense of all the personalities of the characters and the politics and dynamics at play between them all.
Lady Susan is an interesting character. She is looking to marry for a second time but hasn’t much care for her daughter Frederica’s happiness as she is trying to send her into an unhappy and unsuited marriage. I don’t like Lady Susan but I think for the book, she carries much of it and without the drama she creates there wouldn’t be much of a story. That isn’t to say that the story isn’t good. It’s great because Austen created this character who everything revolves around and who has everyone in a tizzy. Even though you may not like Lady Susan, you probably will still like the book. Just maybe don’t expect to go on a journey of rooting for her like with many of Austen’s heroines.
Lady Susan is ruthless, selfish and all for herself. On the redeeming side however she is funny, smart and she goes against the grain. But she is a terrible mother and I feel so sorry for Frederica who seems a nice girl and just needs encouragement and support which she won’t find from her mother.
I always find the way they go on with each other in these books very funny. The false politeness, the OTT appreciations of each other and the equally OTT apologies which never seem sincere. Apart from when someone’s life is been ruined, I actually find these things very funny and they give me a good laugh. And that’s a good thing when you’re reading. It’s an accurate portrait I’d imagine even though I didn’t live back then but I can’t help it. It’s kind of like a guilty pleasure to laugh at the phoniness and the ludicrous and over dramatic feel of it all. And Austen doesn’t disappoint here on that score. Her subtle satire is fantastic as always.
I love Jane Austen’s writing in general. I love the way she crafts novels about emotional entanglements between people so well and shows all these perspectives that make for great drama and true reflections of how the different opinions and sides influence any conversations or relationships in her novels. It’s often thought as trivial writing about matters like this but it is one of the most difficult. To do this, you have to really go inside different types of peoples’ minds to the best of your ability and write it accurately and authentically. She is a genius at this and I admire that very much in her writing.
As always, there is great humour in this book. Austen sprinkles dry wit throughout especially through Lady Susan. The letters are perfectly positioned and tell the story very well. Each letter by a different person feels like it was told from a different perspective and it’s just gorgeously written. This may not be one of Austen’s most famous books but it’s a hidden gem and well worth a read.
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