I was unaware for years of this early work of Jane Austen’s, only hearing of its existence a few years ago. I was prompted to read it by a recent film adaptation, ‘Love and Friendship’. I always like to read the book before watching the film if possible so that I know the real story.
'Lady Susan' is an early work of Jane Austen that wasn’t published until years after her death. Obviously, not having been intended by Austen for publication, it is far more unpolished than her other books but I was surprised by it, as it seems a little racy for a young, unmarried woman to have written.
'Lady Susan' is written in
Lady Susan has made herself unpopular with the acquaintance that she was staying with by carrying on some sort of intimacy with that lady’s husband, so she is in need of a retrench; she suddenly recalls that her former brother in law and his family should be visited by her and wangles herself an invitation to stay. Lady Susan fools her brother in law as to her true nature but her sister in law is just about the only person faced with Lady Susan’s charms and is completely immune to them – it helps that Lady Susan unsuccessfully tried to prevent her brother in law’s marriage!
‘She does not like me. To be sure when we consider that I DID take some pains to prevent my brother-in-law’s marrying her, this want or cordiality is not very surprising, and yet it show an illiberal and vindictive spirit to resent a project which influenced me six years ago, and which never succeeded at last.’Even people who are warned about Lady Susan’s true character end up being brought round to her way of thinking. Will she succeed in trapping herself a husband unsuspecting of her selfish and manipulative nature and force her daughter into marrying a fool?
Lady Susan is without doubt one of the most unlikeable characters ever – her selfishness and lack of compassion are really something to behold, though you cannot help appreciating how cleverly the fools and manipulates people. She really is horrible, but also quite amusing and she gets nearly all the best lines!
‘My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! Just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.’I truly pitied Lady Susan’s daughter, as despite being frightened of her mother, she is making real attempts to save herself from an unhappy future, and given her mother’s habit of succeeding in manipulation, you wonder if she will be able to have any say in her future.
I have heard people talk of Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park as being a potential future Lady Susan, and I could see why they thought this. While I don’t mind Mary Crawford, she is quite cold, though to be fair, Miss Crawford has the saving grace of genuinely caring for Edmund Bertram and I don’t think Lady Susan is capable of loving anybody but herself.
The story is wound up really quickly, as if Austen had tired of the story and just wanted to tie up loose ends and start something else. Thankfully she provided us with the endings for all of the characters. On the one hand, this is a shame, but on the other hand, the next work she wrote was the early draft of ‘Sense and Sensibility’, so we can’t repine too much! A 4½ star read for me.
Though the film is called ‘Love and Friendship’ this is not the film adaptation of Austen’s juvenilia work ‘Love and Freindship’ but instead it’s an adaptation of ‘Lady Susan’. We see things from her perspective mostly and since the story is epistolary this makes for quite a lot of tête-à-tête conversations and changes in scenery. I have heard complaints that the film is choppy and to be fair, it is, a little, but I watched the film the same day as reading ‘Lady Susan’ so I didn’t really notice this aspect because it was just following the letter format.
The film is in general very faithful to the book. Lady Susan is perhaps less of a monster in the film as you don’t quite get the full coldness of heart. Kate Beckinsale is very well cast; she’s around the right age, beautiful and charming. Star of the show is Sir James Martin (played by Tom Bennett), the very stupid baronet that Lady Susan is trying to persuade her daughter to marry. Lady Susan has the best lines, aside from Sir James’ cringeworthy utterances.
I was told the end of the film differed from the book and it does, but it’s only a very slight tweak which I didn’t mind. I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation; I thought it was extremely funny, and will be buying it when it comes out on blu-ray so that I can enjoy it again! A 5 star watch.
See the trailer: