Novella #3: "Lady Susan" is Austen's Favorite Worst Character

lady susanMy third novella in my novella-a-day challenge was Jane Austen’s slim volume, Lady Susan. I’ve read all of Austen’s full-length novels but have somehow never gotten around to this one! And I’m so sorry I waited so long because Lady Susan had me laughing out loud from start to finish. If you’ve never read Austen, start with this one. You won’t be sorry.

Lady Susan is named after its main character, a widow in her thirties who is nevertheless still beautiful, charming, and devilishly manipulative. The story is epistolary; we learn of the events from letters Lady Susan sends and receives from her sister-in-law and her best friend, as well as from her sister-in-law’s letters to her family members. In the beginning of the book, we learn that Lady Susan is a social-climber, a shameless flirt, and takes pride in her ability to charm men, either to marry or jilt at her heart’s content. It’s a romp, and a scathing character portrayal that has the perverse ability to have you rooting for the unprincipled protagonist:

Humbled as he now is, I cannot forgive him such an instance of pride, & am doubtful whether I ought not to punish him by dismissing him at once after this reconciliation, or by marrying & teasing him for ever. But these measures are each too violent to be adopted without some deliberation; at present my Thoughts are fluctuating between various schemes. I have many things to compass: I must punish Frederica, & pretty severely too, for her application to Reginald; I must punish him for receiving it so favourably, & for the rest of his conduct. I must torment my Sister-in-law for the insolent triumph of her Look & Manner since Sir James has been dismissed; for in reconciling Reginald to me, I was not able to save that ill-fated young Man; — & I must make myself amends for the humiliation to which I have stooped within these few days. To effect all this I have various plans.

I love this passage because it shows just how manipulative and vindictive Lady Susan is, how scheming, how low. But she says it all so matter-of-factly that you want to see it all happen. She’s so smart, it’s almost a shame if her schemes don’t work out in her favor. I waited tensed as I read it, waiting for the schemes to play out!

Lady Susan is really a horrible woman, but her spirit and determination make you like her! When I was reading this book I suddenly felt guilty for no reason, and then I realized it was because I was rooting for Lady Susan to succeed with her wicked man-stealing plans. If I’m any proof, Lady Susan is charismatic enough to inspire admiration in anyone. Jane Austen wins again! 5/5 stars. Buy the book at

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