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Literature / Lady Susan

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"Frederica shall be Sir James's wife before she quits my house, and she may whimper, and the Vernons may storm, I regard them not. I am tired of submitting my will to the caprices of others; of resigning my own judgment in deference to those to whom I owe no duty, and for whom I feel no respect. I have given up too much, have been too easily worked on, but Frederica shall now feel the difference."
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In 1871, Jane Austen's nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh published a 2nd edition of his biography of his aunt, including fragments of unfinished works and one previously unpublished brief Epistolary Novel. The untitled text is theorized to have been completed around 1805. Austen-Leigh titled it Lady Susan, and the eponymous Rich Bitch is to her story what Heathcliff is to Wuthering Heights — a conniving, selfish, amoral Villain Protagonist who causes misery and strife for everyone who comes in contact with her, except with no Freudian Excuse and zero redeeming qualities.

Received a film adaptation in 2016 that was, oddly enough, titled Love and Friendship (and, of course, has nothing to do with Love and Freindship).


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The novel provides examples of:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: With the exception of Catherine Vernon, everyone lets Lady Susan hurt and abuse her poor woobtastic daughter, because they are blinded by the mother's charm and filmsy justification, being subjects of her manipulation and sometimes even her Unwitting Pawn. They are mostly forgiven by Frederica and Catherine in the end.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Frederica is freed from her mother and eventually marries Reginald, but Alicia and Lady Susan plan to goad Mrs. Mainwaring's nerves into killing her as quickly as possible, and Lady Susan's schemes against the marriage of Sir James and Miss Mainwaring succeed.
  • Bookworm: Frederica
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Catherine briefly calls Lady Susan out for her mistreatment of her daughter in Letter 24.
  • Canon Foreigner: Mrs. Cross, Lady Susan's companion, in Love & Friendship.
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  • The Ditz: Sir James. The adaptation takes this Up to Eleven.
  • Exact Words: Lady Susan forbids Frederica from telling her aunt and uncle about her hatred of Sir James or asking them for help... but she never forbade her from turning to Reginald de Courcy for help.
    • Since Mr. Johnson forbids Lady Susan from staying in his house during his pending trip to Bath, Alicia finds accommodations for her friend nearby and plans for them to spend all their time together, "for I consider my promise to Mr. Johnson as comprehending only (at least in his absence) your not sleeping in the house."
  • Gone Horribly Right: Lady Susan wanted to tell Reginald to keep his distance for awhile in a way that would make him love her all the more. She succeeded so well that he showed up at her house in town right before her other boyfriend was due to arrive.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Sir James has been "making love" to Maria Mainwaring, Lady Susan suspects her daughter of "making love" to Reginald, and of course there is a lot of "intercourse" going on.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Frederica, thanks to her mother.
  • Hidden Depths: Frederica's rebellious streak.
  • Hooked Up Afterwards: Frederica and Reginald; Lady Susan and Sir James.
  • Hope Spot: Letter 23.
    Catherine Vernon: (in Letter 24) Little did I imagine, my dear Mother, when I sent off my last letter, that the delightful perturbation of spirits I was then in would undergo so speedy, so melancholy a reverse.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Lady Susan's initial attraction to Reginald.
    Lady Susan: There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person predetermined to dislike acknowledge one's superiority.
  • Kick the Dog: Which comes across as particularly vicious when the proverbial "dog" is your own daughter.
  • Lemony Narrator in The Conclusion:
    "This correspondence, by a meeting between some of the parties, and a separation between the others, could not, to the great detriment of the Post Office revenue, be continued any longer."
  • Loving a Shadow: Reginald
  • Malicious Slander: Lady Susan spreads this about Frederica and manages to make Reginald believe that the entire world is spreading this about her.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Lady Susan's own plans ultimately lead to their own failure.
  • Not So Different/Foils: Lady Susan and her daughter both prove to be willing to twist Exact Words and defy propriety to get what they want.
  • Oedipus Complex: Gender Flipped with Frederica's and Lady Susan's rivalry over Reginald de Courcy.
  • Only Sane Man: Catherine is the only who can see Lady Susan for the hypocrite she is, while her brother and husband are wholly taken in.
  • Opposites Attract: The universally-agreeable and accommodating Charles Vernon and his more practical, discerning wife Catherine.
  • Parental Abandonment: The Conclusion explains that Lady Susan ultimately sent her daughter to stay with the Vernons and gradually just ceased to write to her.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Lady Susan's dictatorship over her daughter's love life aside, Reginald also gets a letter from his father highly advising him against marrying Lady Susan. As Catherine and her mother could have told him, it does no good.
  • Playing Hard to Get: After returning to London, Lady Susan writes to Reginald that, as much as she loves him and as much as it pains her to fulfill her duty, she's only been widowed ten months, and etiquette requires they not get engaged too soon, so they better make the honorable sacrifice and see less of each other for awhile. See Gone Horribly Right.
  • Reverse Psychology: Lady Susan's reluctance to allow Frederica to return to Churchhill.
    "Mrs. Vernon was then convinced of what she had only suspected before, that she might have spared herself all the trouble of urging a removal which Lady Susan had doubtless resolved on from the first."
  • Runaway Fiancée: Frederica — this being Jane Austen, Reality Ensues, and she gets caught on the road.
  • Shipper on Deck: Catherine and her parents ship Reginald with Frederica, not least of all because she's not Lady Susan.
  • The Voiceless: In the film, Lord Mainwaring appears on screen, but has no lines. He is the Foil to Sir James, who never stops babbling.
  • What Does He See In Her?: Catherine Vernon can't for the life of her figure out how Reginald could let himself be duped by Lady Susan.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Charles Vernon
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Reginald, you have the heroine and the Rich Bitch completely mixed up, as well as who is spreading Malicious Slander about whom!
  • Your Cheating Heart: Lady Susan's affair with Mr. Mainwaring. In the film, she continues the affair after her marriage, although Sir James is too slow on the uptake to figure that out.

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