A Critical Edition
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There was nothing of the literary woman in the external affairs of her life and its conduct. Born on 16 December, 1775, at Steventon in Hampshire, of which her father was rector, and dying at Winchester on 18 July, 1817, she passed the intervening years almost entirely in the country. She lived with her family in Bath from 1801 to 1806, and at Southampton from 1806 to 1809. Later, she paid occasional visits to London where she went not a little to the play; but she never moved in “literary circles,” was never “lionised” and never drew much advantage from personal contact with other people of intellect. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon.
Lady Susan was probably written in 1794 when she was 19, and can be seen as something of a bridge between the Juvenilia and her first mature novel, Sense and Sensibility. No character at all resembling Lady Susan is to be found in any of her novels — a handsome, clever, bad woman, a character so tempting to the novelist, she had never essayed. And we hardly know after reading Lady Susan whether to regret or not that she did not seek to make more of the power which it shows her to possess. The buoyant power of expression, the clever portraiture of the heroine, and the demure satiric humour peculiar to Jane Austen which it displays throughout, make this short study of character a little gem in its way, and fully justify the place of honour assigned to it. She has succeeded in drawing a thoroughly vicious character without either making the character repulsive or the vice attractive. We feel the full force of Lady Susan's charms without being tempted to think one whit the better of selfishness, heartlessness, or wantonness. Lady Susan was never submitted for publication by Jane Austen and first published by her nephew in 1871.
The Saturday Review, 1871 - Lady Susan is in some respects quite unlike anything else that Miss Austen is known to have written, and by its very unlikeness throws some light on her characteristic peculiarities. Lady Susan belongs to the type of heroine which abounds in novels of a sensational character. Little as we should guess it from her name, she is a gay young widow of thirty-five, with the appearance of twenty-five; witty, lovely, and fascinating, but in reality a selfish, heartless, unprincipled coquette.
Littell's living age, 1871 - The announcement of a posthumous work by Jane Austen naturally aroused great curiosity among all lovers of the best class of English fiction. And, as the advertisements told us nothing more than the name of it, we were left to imagine what we pleased of its nature and purport. We had pictured to ourselves, we own, in Lady Susan something very different from what she turns out to be. We had expected some middle-aged, lady-like dame, very benevolent, rather prejudiced, and reasonably pious. Our surprise was great, therefore, at finding in the new heroine a gay young widow of five-and-thirty who looks only five-and-twenty, very beautiful, very clever, and very wicked.