Saturday, November 14, 2020

Review: Lady Susan by Jane Austen

 Rating: 3/5 stars

I have a fondness for a good female villain. Yzma in particular holds a special place in my heart. But The Little Mermaid's Ursula, A Song of Ice And Fire's Melisandre and Cersei, Mean Girl's Regina George, Morgan Le Fey from the Arthurian legend, all rank as some of my favourite characters. Many of these women operate at the boundary (or just outside of it) of social acceptability, and their flaunting of roles ascribed to women, or their ability to play with these norms to meet their own needs, is often thrilling and satisfying. 

Lady Susan fits perfectly in this category of wicked women. She is charismatic, confident in her power and willing to reach out and take what she wants.

I have made him sensible of my power, and can now enjoy the pleasure of triumphing over a mind prepared to dislike me, and prejudiced against all my past actions.

It was delicious to see this sort of character portrayed by Austen, whose main characters have otherwise ranged from the churchmouse-like Fanny (Mansfield Park) to the spirited but still sensible and moral Elizabeth Bennet

Lady Susan aside, the plot was fairly simple and short. I had hoped that Fredrica would turn out to indeed be a wicked woman. Lady Susan holds Fredrica in so little regard, and Catherine Vernon considers her to be so poorly misjudged by Lady Susan. I think it would have been a great use of the epistolary format of the novel, and played in well with the theme of trusting someone's word versus their reputation. Fredrica turning out to indeed be a perfectly normal woman that was ill-treated by her mother was a little disappointing and boring.

The ending breaks from the epistolary format to general prose as the narrator accounts for what happens to all the characters. I found the tone shift a little jarring at first. Still, Jane Austen's prose is very enjoyable. I get the sense that, with this book, written somewhat later in her life, Austen perhaps had something to say about the idea of women's beauty or desirability fading with age.

 Miss Mainwaring; who, coming to town, and putting herself to an expense in clothes which impoverished her for two years, on purpose to secure him, was defrauded of her due by a woman ten years older than herself

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