You know you’re a coquette when . . .

Ackermanns 1809 fashion plate 3 edI just finished reading Lady Susan as part of my “Austen in August” challenge. I laughed so many times while reading this book that I had to wonder why this particular Jane Austen novel isn’t more popular than it is. It really shows off Jane Austen’s sense of humor in a way her other novels don’t. In Lady Susan, Austen’s wit is bare-faced and has free rein; it isn’t white-washed with charm (as it is in Pride and Prejudice) or coyness (Northanger Abbey).

Lady Susan knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it. She uses her sexuality to seduce and control men in her pursuit of a husband who will give her comfort and security. She’s an unabashed coquette.

There are so many clever lines in the book—by characters talking about Lady Susan and by Lady Susan herself—that I can’t help but admire Jane Austen’s skill in creating a mercenary character who is so enjoyable to read about.

Here are some of my favorite descriptions of  Lady Susan made by other characters in the novel:

“By all that I can gather Lady Susan possesses a degree of captivating deceit which it must be pleasing to witness and detect.”

“She does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable.”

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“She is really excessively pretty; however you may choose to question the allurements of a lady no longer young.”

“She is clever and agreeable, has all that knowledge of the world which makes conversation easy, and talks very well, with a happy command of language, which is too often used, I believe, to make black appear white.”

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“Her neglect of her husband, her encouragement of other men, her extravagance and dissipation, were so gross and notorious that no one could be ignorant of them.”

“She is poor, and may naturally seek an alliance which must be advantageous to herself.”

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Austen in August – Part 2

Are you reading “Austen in August?” In a prior post I mentioned Roof Beam Reader’s annual Austen in August reading challenge.

1923 editionSo far I’m on track to meet my “Austen in August” goals—I just finished Jane Austen’s Sanditon and tomorrow I’ll start reading Lady Susan.

It’s been a couple years since I last read Lady Susan, but it’s still one of my favorite Austen novels. Lady Susan showcases Jane Austen’s humor and wit in a way that’s completely contrary to the sometimes loving, sometimes sly, and always charming humor we see in her other novels.

The title character, Lady Susan, is absurdly funny and deliciously evil as she schemes to find a rich husband, no matter the cost.  She bewitches men at the same time she despises them, and she knows her power. Here’s Lady Susan’s reaction after meeting the hero Reginald de Courcy for the first time:

There is something about him which rather interests me, a sort of sauciness and familiarity which I shall teach him to correct. He is lively, and seems clever, and when I have inspired him with greater respect for me than his sister’s kind offices have implanted, he may be an agreeable flirt. There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person predetermined to dislike acknowledge one’s superiority.

Carlo Ferranti 1She’s perfectly awful … but she draws me in and I can’t wait to see what kind of havoc will result from Lady Susan’s grand schemes.

When I read the book I marvel over the fact that Jane Austen—who was only 19 or 20 years old with a life experience that was somewhat limited—could create such an accomplished coquette like Lady Susan. It’s yet another example of her immense talent as a writer.

Here’s a video that gives some insight into Jane’s life at the time she wrote the novel.

If you’ve never read Lady Susan, I hope you’ll give it a try. Here’s a link to a free version at Amazon. Let me know what you think of the book.

What Jane Austen novel will you read next?