Monday, June 13, 2016
Lady Susan (At Long Last!)
It is a very shaming thing for me to admit that it has taken me this long, in all my seven years of being a Janeite, to finish reading Lady Susan, the only other story besides the major six novels that Jane Austen completed during her adult life. Such a fact is so very dreadfully mortifying.
But now I have finished it. I still did not read the whole thing: I listened to most of it. Which I used to think didn't exactly "count". I have since changed my mind, having become a very busy young lady who has little time to read, and when she does have the time, has little energy for anything that requires more thinking than watching a movie or scrolling through Pinterest. Driving to work, however, takes me 25 minutes each way, and therefore I have almost an hour of spare time right there-- but of course I can't read. I can listen, however. And so I have been doing.
It was hard for me to get into Lady Susan to begin with, and I think that's because I wasn't used to reading Jane Austen's epistolary style, even though it's predominantly how she wrote all of her earlier stories. The characters and character names and complicated relations to each other can also be very confusing. I found that listening to it (taking advantage of a free recording from Librivox) helped immensely because there was a different person to read each character.
Lady Susan is technically a "novella" and was written by Jane Austen roundabout 1795 (which means she was 19-21ish). It was during her prolific beginnings of being an author, when she also wrote First Impressions and Elinor and Marianne. It's very different from her other stories, however, and more easily compared with her juvenilia. Unlike our beloved favorites, it's not romantic comedy-- it's just comedy.
That is, it deals with relationships between men and women, but it's more about the follies and foibles of both. It seems both realistic and ridiculous at the same time. The title character is what you've probably heard called an "anti-heroine." I would say that although she is the one who drives the plot, there is no precise main character. I felt it focused on Catherine Vernon as much as Lady Susan, the former being a sensible character and easy to relate to.
Lady Susan is a people-pleaser. She focuses on pleasing the men, of course, but she isn't just a common flirt-- she's viciously clever. Regular flirts use the same technique on everyone, and it doesn't WORK on everyone. Lady Susan is more interesting since she studies various characters and knows what will please or convince them as individuals (or at least as one of a type). Although she is easier for women to see through, she still takes pains to win some of them over, too. And that's why I liked Catherine Vernon... she always saw through Lady Susan's schemes and, although a totally different kind of lady herself, knew What Was Up. (Catherine is Lady Susan's late husband's brother's wife. She refers to her as "sister.")
I also felt the most sorry for her because her brother was being Stupid a lot of the time and wouldn't LISTEN to his sister, and brothers should listen to the wisdom of their sisters, especially concerning other women-- but they don't, which is something Jane Austen's satire lights upon in this story.
The whole story feels lighthearted though, really, in the way that only Jane Austen knows how to write. She has such an interesting way of discreetly making fun of people. I say discreetly, because she doesn't TELL you she's making fun of them-- she just does it.
It seems every time I actually read something written by Jane Austen, I am reminded of why I like her so much. Just watching movies and reading fanfiction and everything that is not simply Jane Austen, one is liable to forget. She's the best, and that is all there is to it.
I will be back soon with a handy-dandy guide for all of you who were confused as I am about the characters.