Jane Austen's Lady Susan: Summary & Overview

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  • 0:02 A Look at ''Lady Susan''
  • 0:40 Characters
  • 2:54 Plot
  • 6:00 Themes
  • 6:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

During this lesson, we'll explore one of Jane Austen's less-studied novels, 'Lady Susan.' After examining the context of the novel, we'll discuss its characters, plot, and themes.

A Look At Lady Susan

Incomplete records make it impossible to know for certain when Jane Austen originally wrote Lady Susan, but the novel was published in 1871 - over 50 years after her death. The novel is different than Jane Austen's typical work in a couple ways. First, it is epistolary novel, which means it is written as a series of letters. Second, unlike many of Jane Austen's more popular works, the main character, Lady Susan, is quite unlikeable. She has no redeeming qualities and while she seems to do well for herself in the novel by manipulating the other people in her life, the end of the novel appropriately punishes her for her misdeeds.

Characters

Lady Susan is the main character of the novel. She is around 35 years old, although she looks much younger. Although witty and beautiful, she demonstrates zero conscience and is determined to alter her situation to give her the most benefit with little care about the feelings of those around her. In particular, she despises her daughter. She primarily uses her beauty to accomplish her goals which, as a recent widow, include marrying a wealthy man.

Although Frederica Vernon, Lady Susan's daughter, is sweet and nice-looking, the abuse she suffers at the hands of her mother has had a severe impact on her. In addition to calling her names, her mother drops her off at a horrible boarding school in an attempt to force Frederica to marry the man she has chosen for her. Frederica finds love at the end of the novel with Reginald De Courcy.

Charles Vernon is the brother of Lady Susan's deceased husband. He and his wife, Catherine, offer Lady Susan a place in their home. Catherine has a clear head about Lady Susan's behavior, because Lady Susan tried to prevent her marriage to Charles in the first place. She worries about Lady Susan's mistreatment of Frederica, in addition to how easily her own brother falls under Lady Susan's spell.

Reginald De Courcy, Catherine's brother, is a decent man, but incredibly naive. When he learns that Lady Susan is visiting his sister, he comes for a visit. Despite being forewarned about her manipulations; he falls for her tricks. Eventually, he manages to free himself of her lies and finds love with Frederica.

The mother of Reginald and Catherine Vernon, Lady De Courcy frequently receives letters from her distressed daughter about the impact of Lady Susan on Reginald.

As the patriarch of the De Courcy family, Sir Reginald fears that his son will commit the serious mistake of marrying Lady Susan, who will not only make his life miserable, but also ruin their family, since Reginald is the only son.

Sir James Martin is a wealthy bachelor who Lady Susan tries to manipulate into marrying her daughter. Frederica wants nothing to do with him, however, and Lady Susan ends up marrying him in the end.

Alicia Johnson is Lady Susan's confidant. Alicia shares many qualities with Lady Susan.

Plot

Fleeing relationship drama at her last residence, Lady Susan begrudgingly moves in with her brother-in-law and his wife. She sends her daughter away to boarding school, which she hopes will be awful, because she wants her daughter to marry Sir James Martin, a man she has picked out for her.

Catherine does not like her sister-in-law. She suspects her of trouble, a suspicion which only deepens when her brother, Reginald, arrives and falls for Lady Susan. Lady Susan has no interest in pursuing a romance with Reginald, but she gets great satisfaction from annoying Catherine.

Alarmed by Catherine's reports about her brother's smitten state, both Sir and Lady De Courcy write to Reginald to warn him away from Lady Susan. Reginald swears that he has no intention of marrying Lady Susan and defends her honor, claiming she has done no wrong.

Frederica runs away from school. Charles Vernon goes to fetch her, while Lady Susan convinces Reginald that her daughter is a troublemaker. Lady Susan grows weary of Reginald, who wants to know everything all the time. She keeps up her correspondence with Manwaring, the married man she flirted with at her previous residence.

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