Friday, November 11, 2016

For Monday: Austen, Lady Susan, Letters 1-15

For Monday: Austen, Lady Susan, Letters 1-15

* NOTE: Be sure to pay attention to who is writing the letter and who is receiving it. This would be important in real life, and is very important in figuring out how to read the letter (and the letter-writer’s intentions).

CHARACTERS (all of whom write one or more letters):

  • Lady Susan Vernon:  a widow, sister-in-law to Mrs. Vernon (she married her husband's brother). Has a daughter, Frederica, she is trying to get married to Sir James Martin.
  • Miss Vernon: Frederica, Lady Susan’s daughter.
  • Mrs. Johnson: Lady Susan’s intimate friend, with whom she shares her secret plans and love affairs. Her husband thinks Lady Susan a bad influence.
  • Mrs. Vernon: Married to Lady Susan’s brother; lives at Churchill where Lady Susan stays after being ejected from the Manwaring’s house. Her mother is Lady de Courcy and her brother is Mr. de Courcy.
  • Mr. de Courcy (Reginald): Mrs. Vernon’s brother, is anxious to meet Lady Susan after all the rumors he’s heard of her.
  • Sir Reginald de Courcy: Mr. de Courcy's and Mrs. Vernon's father.
  • Lady de Courcy: Sir Reginald's wife. 

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In “To a Lady,” Pope writes, “artists! who can paint or write,/
To draw the naked is your true delight.” How might the letter-writing format allow Austen to depict the women in her novel “naked,” or without the masks they often wear in society? As a woman, is she also trying to shame women into acting better/more morally, or does she have a different agenda?

Q2: Lady Susan writes of her daughter, “I do not mean therefore that Frederica’s acquirements should be more than superficial, and I flatter myself that she will not remain long enough at school to understand anything thoroughly” (Letter 7). According to the book (so far), what qualities, talents, and behavior make an “educated” (or cultured) woman? Is Lady Susan herself educated? Related to this, what kind of education does she want for her daughter?

Q3: Is Lady Susan the antagonist of Lady Susan or a kind of anti-hero? Are we supposed to like her or loathe her? Does she come across as a Belinda or a Clarissa? Consider a passage such as this one: “There is an exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person pre-determined to dislike, acknowledge one’s superiority” (Letter 7).

Q4: According to the letters of Mrs. Vernon and Mr. de Courcy, how has Lady Susan earned a bad reputation in society? What is she accused of doing, and can we tell whether or not any of this is true, or just gossipy slander? What might justifiably make Mrs. Vernon reluctant to welcome her into her home? 


  1. 2. As previously addressed in lecture and in Pope’s Rape of the Lock, in this time frame women are to be portrayed in a certain light to get a husband. She sends her daughter off to a school so that she may look the part, but not retain the information. The information that the quote addresses in the question says, “I do not mean therefore that Frederica’s acquirements should be more than superficial, and I flatter myself that she will not remain long enough at school to understand anything thoroughly.” Right after this quotation, it goes on to say that, “I hope to see her the wife of Sir James within a twelvemonth. You know on what I ground my hope, and it is certainly a good foundation, for school must be very humiliating to a girl of Frederica’s age” (page 10) The way I read this passage is that Lady Susan see’s education as child’s play, but once a girl gets to a certain age, she must grow up and get married. The example I thought of while doing this question was in the old cartoon movie of Peter Pan when Wendy’s father is trying to make her grow up and stop pretending—to stop using her imagination. Lady Susan seems to be educated in the ways that she prefers her daughter not to be, being able to hold conversations with the men, not being marries presently, etc.….

    4. In one of the letters, (I could not find which one) Mrs. Vernon refers to Lady Susan as a “coquette.” A coquette was a woman who got around rather that be in the literal sense or if she put herself in situations in which she attempted to drive the attentions of previously claimed men her way. In either or both cases, it was a nickname in society that one who try most earnestly to stay away from. We can seem to tell that this is an accurate portrayal considering that she has no current intention of marrying Reginald, though she continues to play with his emotions (page 13). Lady Susan also talks about how the reason she is not presently considering marriage is because she is “not at present in want of money” (page 13).

  2. 1). The letter-writing format can allow Austen to depict the women in her novel without any masks because they are writing freely to their friends/family/etc. This gives them a certain freedom of speech that in other company they might never say. These ladies trust in the people they are sending their letters. I do not believe she is trying to shame them, no, I think she is just trying to show them how they sound. It feels as though she’s not trying to expose them in a bad manner.
    3). Considering the passage given, in letter 7, it would be safe to assume that Lady Susan is to be loathed – if she is willing to undermine a person’s spirit and make them cynical, particularly bow down to authority (herself, perhaps) we can only assume she is to be hated. Yet, whether this is true or not remains to be seen.

  3. 1. Letters are generally exclusive to the sender and receiver of the letter, so it is easy for the sender of the letter to be as real or fake as they desire. Lady Susan wishes to appear a certain way to most people in order for her to sustain a solid reputation despite her true, uncivilized personality. The only person who knows Lady Susan for who she really is is Mrs. Johnson – her only friend. In her letters to Mrs. Johnson, we are able to actually see Lady Susan remove her costume, take off her mask, and emerge totally, emotionally naked before her only confidant. I don’t believe Austen is trying to shame women into acting more morally. If anything, I believe she is advocating the nakedness of society. It seems she wishes everyone would be able to take off their socially essential masks and be their own person without facing social injustice – just as she herself had to do avoid being seen writing to avoid civil dispute.

    2. A lady must have a decent understanding of languages, arts, and sciences, but they are primarily expected to be educated to be proper, approachable, and fit for marriage. Lady Susan does not claim to be educated, but she asserts she doesn’t need to be as long as she possesses “grace and manner, [which] after all, are of the greatest importance”. In that case, she wishes for her daughter Frederica to only be taught enough to get her a husband as no more than that is truly necessary.

  4. Q1- Letters are a very personal medium to convey a story, much in the same way that a diary entry is personal. Letters are a peek into very private conversations that are meant for a single person. The "taboo"-like feel of reading someone else's letters is probably very appealing, especially to those who like gossip. However, this inside look into the personal lives of the characters is able to provide intimate details that would be difficult to manifest with other methods.

    Q3- I feel that Lady Susan is technically the antagonist, but to my knowledge it is unusual that the antagonist is also the main character. The fact that she has been engaged in certain activities with a married man, and is currently attempting to cover it up, is a very disagreeable thing to do. Plus, the passage from letter 7 makes Lady Susan sound like quite the kill-joy. On the other hand, her cleverness and scheming could be admired by some. She is almost like The Joker of classic British literature; strongly disliked, but possibly more intelligent that initially perceived.

  5. Dana Welch

    By writing an epistolary novel, Austen has made it easier to see into the hearts of people, mainly women, by showing the way they write to each other and what they say when they are talking to a close friend, or an acquaintance or an enemy even. this is showing the "naked" side of women in her novel, and I think she is trying to get a message across that women should maybe not act like lady Susan, but to find their own voices, like she did herself in becoming an author.

    Q4. Lady Susan is accused by Mrs. Vernon of being a bad mother and a coquette. She does prove that maybe she is not a great mother, by the things she says about her daughter, but she is maybe trying to just help her in the long run. She is accused of being a coquette, which I assume is a flirt and kind of like a skank? I think maybe she is. Her letters to Mrs. Johnson kind of reflect that maybe she isn't a very tame or timid woman when it comes to anything sexual.

  6. Q#1
    Writing in the format of letters almost seems like a secret way to communicate. Instead of talking one on on to someone, you get to sit down a collect all of your thoughts. You have time to be yourself and put your spin on your subjects. Because writing letters is between 2 people, you have more of a way to be raw with how you feel or what you want. You don't have to talk the way women speak, or act the way they are taught to, especially if that other person is your best friend or someone you trust.

    I think Lady Susan is what every woman secretly wants to be. She has not been "educated" the same way that women in her society were. If I were a person back then, I personally wouldn't hang out with her. But I do think that every woman secretly wants to not have a care in the world. To not hold grudges, to not act, put on your pretty face. That is so tiring already! Imagine being free enough to be yourself, despite what the people think of you. I think she is like Clarissa. Absolutely.

  7. Q1: Letters in that time were either written with the knowledge that they were going to be seen by more than just the two who are addressed in the letter, much like Mrs. Vernon and Lady de Courte did with Reginald’s letter. The only letters that show anyone as truly “naked” are the letters from Lady Susan to her friend Mrs. Johnson. But at the same time, maybe Lady de Courte and Mrs. Vernon are “nude” because at this point the way they act and talk is all that they know. I don’t think Austen is trying to shame anyone into acting a certain way, but is maybe trying to convince others to not see flirtatious people as coquettes, but as a byproduct of their society that restricts all women to have to act the same way to be respected.

    Q3: I think Lady Susan is very much the anti-hero in this story, but others would probably disagree. I personally like her, but I think for her time she’s supposed to be irritating to the people who strictly follow the social norms like Mrs. Vernon and Lady de Courte. I feel like Lady Susan isn’t exactly one or the other when it comes to Belinda and Clarissa. I think that she is the middle ground between the two, but leans more towards Belinda on the spectrum. Because while she IS acting, like Belinda, and flirting with men to lead them on, she’s more of a Wife of Bath who knows how to play the system to get the satisfaction that she desires because she knows the cards are stacked against her. Even when she talks about her daughter, She makes me think of the quote from Daisy in The Great Gatsby, “I hope she'll be a fool," she says, "that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." Because if all is expected of a woman is to act like a flirt or act like a demure and civilized woman just for the means of getting and keeping a man, then what is there left to really be for a girl than to be a “beautiful little fool”?