I've been saving Jane Austen's unfinished novels. I've read her six classics, some more often than others, but I've been saving Sanditon, The Watsons, and Lady Susan, knowing that eventually there would be a moment when I wanted them desperately.
Then I saw this blog post at The Booksmugglers, and the preview for the new movie Love and Friendship, and I knew it was time to read Lady Susan. It's not nearly what I would have expected, and it's also wonderful.
I don't want to imply that those two facts are connected; I supposed it would be enjoyable. It's Jane Austen, even if it's polished up by someone else (and I haven't gone into what she wrote and what others did, because I'm not quite finished and don't want to find out till I'm done). The unexpected part, though, is how delightfully catty it is.
Austen's books always have that manipulative character who's thwarting romances for no reason or stealing nice men for herself, but we she is generally the bad guy. In this epistolary novel, we get the points of view of both Lady Susan and her--well, rival isn't really the word, nor opponent. Let's say opposite, Mrs. Vernon. Mrs. Vernon is Lady Susan's sister-in-law; Mr. Vernon's late brother was Lady Susan's husband, and they find themselves living together at the Vernon home when Lady S. determines that she really must repair to the country, as her previous hostess's husband has fallen in love with her.
Lady Susan seduces men mostly to prove she can, though it's often also very practical. Mrs. Vernon's young brother may be her next target--what shall become of him? We hear the gossip and rumors from Mrs. V. and then the logic and rationales from Lady S., and it's a great lesson in how the things that benefit a person always seem to make the most logical sense.
The movie looks hilarious, and a lot of the charming moments in the preview are directly from the book. The understated humor of Austen herself is made wry and modern, but it's the same point--"if she was going to be so jealous, she shouldn't have married such a charming man"--and it's a guilty delight to watch her artfully lie to smooth over an argument with a beau, and then punish him for disagreeing with her in the first place, and then brag about it in a letter to her friend.
It's a short little slip of a book, but I'm finding it a charmer and a compulsive read. Absolutely and without question worth picking up.