One of the most best things about Jane Austen’s books is her social commentary. Her books are, for the most part, lighthearted in tone, but they also brought to light serious issues of that day and called into question the justice of issues like entail, social status, and the politics of courtship and marriage. She packaged her social commentary in a delightful narrative filled with plenty of wit and romance because a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
But she doesn’t do that in Lady Susan. Unfortunately, without the wit and romance, Austen’s social commentary is like watching an episode of “The Real Housewives of Regency Era England.”
Lady Susan Vernon is a calculating, manipulative social climber who cares nothing about anyone but herself. A widow in her late twenties with a daughter who is of an age to be married, she likes to keep her daughter far away and plenty of irons in the fire. Among her admirers and potential suitors are a married man, her brother-in-law’s brother-in-law (her brother-in-law’s wife’s brother), and a young man that’s she’s actually trying to manipulate into marrying her daughter.
Her lies and scheming are just plain ugly to behold. Some may argue that Austen’s showing that Lady Susan lives in a society that forces her to be manipulative in order to survive, but I think that’s a load of King George’s shorts. Austen doesn’t paint Lady Susan in at all a sympathetic light. Even Emma, a character only Austen herself was supposed to like, is miles more likeable.
The scheming and plotting sucked any joy out of the book for me. And everyone else’s helplessness to withstand Lady Susan’s machinations were just as annoying, if not more so.
It’s an epistolary novel, so you also lose Austen’s delightful asides and observations; you only get to hear the direct perspectives of the characters. It’s a pity that the characters are so yucky.