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Lady Susan
Writing Lady Susan

Jane Austen

Lady Susan was probably written in 1794 when Jane Austen was only nineteen. Her elder sister and constant companion Cassandra had recently become engaged, but instead of finding her an eligible bachelor, Jane’s father purchased a mahogany writing desk for her birthday. Jane’s literary response was a scathing attack on marriage itself. Writing in the tradition of the great eighteenth-century epistolary novels like Samuel Richardson’s Clarrissa (where the story is told through the characters’ letters to one another), Jane was also inspired by the correspondence among her own extended family. Letter writing was where Jane could truly express herself; the earliest surviving letter (to Cassandra) details the events at a ball and Jane describes the attributes of the young men she danced with . Written just a year after she had abandoned Lady Susan here are the words of a bright twenty-year old with a sardonic wit: “I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved,” she writes of one suitor, “imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together”. Her letters are as quotable as much of her fiction: “single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony” and her increasing confidence in her own opinions and writing could be one reason for her dropping the epistolary style of Lady Susan for the strong narrative voice to be found in her later novels. Indeed Sense and Sensibility began as a novel of letters called Elinor and Marianne, which was to be Jane’s next work after she stopped writing Lady Susan. A decade later, as a maturing novelist she would return to Susan Vernon’s adventures, rewriting the manuscript and adding an epilogue, written in the classic Austen manner. But she was never satisfied with the results and embarked on the more marketable romantic stories which were to make her name. Lady Susan remained unpublished until 1871, an effervescent postscript to an incredible career, and a hint of a darker side to the woman who defined English literary romance.

Lady Susan:
About the Play         Directing Lady Susan

 

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