"Lady Susan" - Book Review

Jane Austen is famous for six novels (in no particular order): Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility. Also available for the serious fans are her letters and two novellas titled Love & Freindship (sic) and Lady Susan. Recently, director Whit Stillman decided to bring one of these to the screen. You might be forgiven for thinking it was Love & Freindship, given that he titled his movie "Love & Friendship" (spelled correctly) but you would be wrong. It is in fact Lady Susan. Not knowing this, I initially set out to read the Project Gutenberg version of Love & Freindship. This turns out to have been written by Austen when she was 15 or so, and it's a farce meant for the entertainment of her family. It's so absurd that I was having a lot of trouble imagining it being successfully turned into a movie. I quit about half way through (I may yet return to it) and switched over to Lady Susan, which seemed a somewhat more likely candidate for a movie. Both are epistolary novels, but Lady Susan has much more of the wit and skill we expect from Austen. And while Austen has had some nasty characters in her novels, "Lady Susan" is the only nasty protagonist she's created, bringing this a very different feel from Austen's other works. I was pleased to hear that Kate Beckinsale pulled down the lead: before she spent a decade being a homicidal vampire in leather tights, she was the lead in the BBC's lovely version of Austen's "Emma," and I'm very pleased she's returning to Austen. Beckinsale is now the right age, an excellent actress, and definitely beautiful enough to play the gorgeous, manipulative, and widowed Lady Susan.

But on to the book itself. The title character is recently widowed, and has a daughter who is 15 or 16. She goes to visit reluctant relatives in the country to avoid the scandal she's created with a married man (and another man!) in the city. Where she proceeds to have a go at seducing the family's prized son while attempting to marry off her cowed daughter to an extremely rich moron that her daughter hates. This is told mostly in the form of letters from Lady Susan to her friend who she tells all, and letters from the matriarch of the country family to her mother.

I found the ending somewhat abrupt and unexpected, although I suppose it suits Austen's sensibilities. The book is short - perhaps 50 or 60 pages, I'm not sure as I was reading an e-book version. It isn't Austen's best writing, but it's fairly good and is definitely worth a read for fans of her better known books: it's short and it's very different.