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Friday, March 30, 2007

Book Thirteen

The first novel we have read that was written by Jane Austen is the thirteenth novel we have read this year.

We were slow to sort out who was who, when characters had the same last names, and relations by marriage are referred to as blood. Even once this was fairly sorted out in our mind, we had to pause at the start of each letter and think who exactly is writing to whom?

The epistolary novel is a form that is rather pleasing to us. We often marvel at how much story can be conveyed, and here we felt Ms. Austen did a good job. She is clearly in control of this story, evidenced first by her selection of letters--not all of the correspondence is shown--and her conclusion at the end. Despite the letters that are not included, the events are still easy to follow, showing a skillful composition of the others. What we did not learn--and perhaps we simply missed this information somewhere in our reading--is what happened in Lady Susan's past. If we understand, she has lost her husband and seduced another woman's husband. When characters allude to what happened, though, we do not recall any details being given. The good thing is this does not leave anything out of the story for us. What is interesting and important is not what happens, but how characters react and respond. Ms. Austen has done this, to her great credit.

The letters tend to sound similar in tone and style; if each character had a more distinctive voice, the novel may have been improved. We required an eclaircissement to understand the word eclaircissement. Never heard of the word before, and it seemed to come in this story completely out of left field.

Lady Susan began as sympathetic for us. Through all she remains strong, and never a victim. By the end, when her plots and cabals have been revealed, we feel no malice toward her, but the initial sympathy has bled away. She remains a most interesting character. The novel does not stand like a rock in the middle of nowhere, but gives us one adventure in the life of Lady Susan, and we are convinced that there are many others. Had Ms. Austen lived in these times, we are sure her publishers would have begged for a sequel, and even a prequel.

The novel reminded us of Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses. Obviously the form is the same, but the way Lady Susan plotted and tricked and used her wiles to influence and control others is, in a more subdued manner, exactly what the Marquise de Merteuil does. These two characters are absolutely fascinating, and it is a wonder to witness their talents in action, and try to understand how they are able to wield such power over others.

We were not looking forward to reading this, yet were pleasantly surprised, and enjoyed it.
We give it four (out of five) pipefuls.
[this review is cross-posted in a slightly different form at Slaves of Golconda]


  1. Do you plan on reading more Austen now?

  2. I have so many things lined up already, and I don't feel the urge to move her up to the top of my queue, but I would certainly consider her in the future.