Our capacity to form first impressions was one that Jane Austen examines in all her fiction. Her characters sometimes are shown to form incorrect impressions. Her characters often strive to give false impressions. None of her fictional characters is as preoccupied with setting up a public image in order to gain her own ends as the Lady Susan who gives this novella its name. Lady Susan is the archetypal coquette, the skilled deceiver. She is Thackeray’s Becky Sharp, fifty years before her time.
Jane Austen plays the game of deception with us too. In this novella, which is almost entirely in epistolary form, we form the impression from reading Lady Susan’s first letter, that she is a grieving widow, devoted to the care and education of her 16 year old daughter, and willing at last to accede to her brother-in-law’s pressing invitation to stay with him and his family. Wrong! We too have been duped, as we soon discover.
Jane Austen first drafted several of her novels in epistolary form, that is to say, in the form of letters exchanged by her characters. This one, which may have been the earliest of all her surviving works, alone remained in this form. And great fun it is, although Lady Susan’s contriving and heartlessness, especially in regard to her daughter, sometimes goes beyond the comic to the cruel.
Naxos has added to the fun that this “entertainement” can provide by issuing the novella in audio book form. Seven actors are allocated the parts of the seven letter writers. Furthermore, there is no abridgement of the text, and there are some snatches of music that serve to provide breaks between the letters and indicate the passing of time. Altogether, an ideal production.