Thoughts on Love and Friendship, or Just who did Jane Austen hang out with?

love-friendship-posterLady Susan, the Jane Austen novella recently adapted into the file Love and Friendship is unique among all of Austen’s works, for many reasons. Not the least of which is that it’s something of a Regency train wreck. You just can’t tear yourself away from the awfulness that is Lady Susan.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the original novella, and I thought the movie was excellent. But, man does it leave me wondering who Jane Austen hung out with.


Frederica in the wake of Lady Susan

Lacking access to psychiatric textbooks, the internet, or even a local psychiatrist–Freud wouldn’t be born for another 40-50 years yet–the only way Jane Austen could have so vividly, and accurately portrayed the narcissistic, sociopathic Lady Susan was to know someone just like her. But who?

I don’t think it was someone she lived with. Living with someone like Lady Susan, who displays a pretty significant personality disorder, is an experience like no other. People like her are apt to go about the world manipulating half the people around them to do their bidding whilst the other half question their own sanity.


Lady Vernon and her brother, also in the wake of Lady Susan.

In short they make people crazy. 

Seriously those with personality disorders are convinced they are the sane, sensible ones and everyone, absolutely everyone, else around them are the ones with the problem. (We won’t talk about how I know this. That’s another blog post.)Obviously, Jane Austen knew something of that, but she didn’t portray Lady Vernon or Frederica with quite the right level of intensity to suggest she knew first-hand the way these people mark one’s soul.

Still though, she nailed the way Lady Susan manipulated both the men  around her and her friends, like Alicia. I have a hunch, Austen watched someone in her circle do just that. 

All in all, it just leaves me in awe of how astute Austen must have been at a very young age–Lady Susan was among her earliest works–to pick up on what most people never catch on to, not to mention portray it so accurately on the page.

I wonder if this isn’t some of the reason Lady Susan is not one of her more popular works. Fredricka gets her love, romance and happy ending–all the hallmarks of an Austen tale. But Lady Susan, like Wickham, Willoughby, and William Elliot (what is it with the ‘W’ villians here?) remains steadfastly unredeemed.

Sad, frustrating, and a little unsatisfying, but entirely realistic. Those like Lady Susan very rarely make a change for the better.

Did Austen see that, too? Maybe, after writing Lady Susan and her manipulations, Austen found herself weary of spending so much time in the head–and heart–of such a character and reoriented herself toward the characters we love-to-love rather than the ones we love-to-hate. I tend to think the rushed ending of the original novel points to this.

I heartily recommend Love and Friendship, just be warned it isn’t the typical Austen tale. The ‘title’ character is the villainess, not the heroine here.

 On a more personal note, if you have lived with or been significantly impacted by someone with a real personality disorder (not just garden variety difficult sort of person) you might want to really think about seeing this film. It could bring up some rather difficult ‘stuff’.

Lady Susan copyHave you seen the film? What do you think?

If you’d like to read Lady Susan for yourself, here’s a free copy you can download just click the cover.



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    • JanisB on June 1, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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    Fascinating and mildly creepy post, Maria. Brought back some really bad memories. I just bought a copy of the entire JA canon including Lady Susan and will read it carefully before going to see the movie. Many thanks for the honest review and the “heads-up.” Sorry to hear that you had one of “them” in your life too.

    • Sheila L. M. on June 1, 2016 at 5:36 pm
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    I saw this movie with Claudine in NYC and we laughed through so much of it. Kate deserves an award for her acting in this one.

    • Barbara Linton on June 2, 2016 at 8:03 am
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    Who did Jane Austen hang with? There might be a few shades of her cousin Eliza deFeuillide in Lady Susan but some years ago when an excellent book adaptation of Lady Susan came out (there are several out there) at an event in NYC the two authors talked about the connection between Lady Susan and Dangerous Liaisons which was published in France in 1782 and became available in England around the time Jane Austen wrote Lady Susan. They even brought up some passages that were very similar in the two books. So its maybe not who Jane Austen was hanging with but what she was reading. That goes for the epistolary format, too, which she also used in the first draft of Sense and Sensibility, was very popular in the 1700s and sort of fell out of fashion by the time Austen started writing her more familiar format. The 18th century racy plot lines and corrupt main characters also fell out of fashion – Austen had some great female characters who were less than moral – Mary Crawford, Lucy Steele – but they weren’t the stars.

    • Arnie Perlstein on June 5, 2016 at 10:21 am
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    You’re all taking the story the wrong way. Jane Austen never intended lady Susan to be understood as a realistic character – she is a kind of regency era harpy – sent by the gods to punish Men for taking advantage of their enormous systemic power over women.she intended women reading the novel to get a vicarious thrill and something of a call to arms as well.
    The literary character sheet most reminds me of is Randall McMurphy from Ken Keesey’s one flew over the cuckoo’s nest. She is total defianceof grossly unfair societal norms

    1. I can see what you are saying. I think I would agree with you more if Jane Austen hadn’t written Lady Susan when she was just 19 or 20. I’m just not certain that a writer so young would be thinking that way. Since she didn’t publish the novel herself, I’m not sure she actually intended anything for ‘women reading the novel’ because I’m not she she thought there would be any. JMHO

  1. “I think I would agree with you more if Jane Austen hadn’t written Lady Susan when she was just 19 or 20.”

    First, it is totally unknown when she wrote Lady Susan between 1794 and 1803 — the dating is completely speculative, and Austen scholars are all over the calendar in terms of their speculations, and rationales for dating.

    Second, read this post of mine about the dark dark dark text (its not even subtext) of her Sharade in her History of England written by her when she was all of 15 years of age:

    I think conventional Austen scholarship has it all backwards — I see JA as being radical and outside the box as a young teenager, and then, by the time of publishing her novels beginning at age 35, she had learned how to embed that radical critique of her world as a subtextual shadow story.

    Lucy Steele is very much a Lady Susan character, and don’t be so sure JA was hostile to her.

    And Mary Crawford is the best example, because I think she is the true heroine of Mansfield Park — as in Emma with Jane Fairfax,, we see Mary C through Fanny P’s terrified, albeit fascinated eyes.

    And I believe she was always confident that she could get published, she never gave up her writing, she kept plugging away until she achieved her goal –she dreamt of what we see today, except she’d be saying, read beneath the surface, people!

    I’m just not certain that a writer so young would be thinking that way. Since she didn’t publish the novel herself, I’m not sure she actually intended anything for ‘women reading the novel’ because I’m not she she thought there would be any

    1. You have some interesting perspectives, but I think we will have to agree to disagree here. I’ve read your posts and just don’t come to the same conclusions you do from the evidence you present.

      I come at this from a background in developmental psychology and scientific research. I subscribe to the principle of parsimony–that generally the best explanation is the simplest one. It is much simpler, and more age and developmentally appropriate to look at her early writings as evidence of typical teen age/young adult attitudes as they explore the world around them and interpret it through their own mind.

      Yes, Austen was a literary genius, but she was human. Even prodigies develop through the same stages as everyone else, and in terms of personal maturity–which is key for a writer–they don’t really do it that much faster than everyone else. And yes, I have spent considerable time around such young people. They are incredible and fascinating, but generally not able to accomplish the kind of thinking you insist Austen engaged in.

      As for Austen being confident she ‘could get published’, I think this is a misunderstanding. Effectively, all publishing in the day was SELF Publishing. That is, you had to pay a publisher to publish your book. There was no worry about getting a publisher to like your work, it was about having the money to get it done. Given Austen’s financial situation, it was one of the few ways that she could bring in an income without compromising her position as a gentlewoman.

      I have no doubt she was frustrated by the plight of women (including herself) in her era. She had a great sense of irony and ability to observe and ‘read’ people. That does not though validate interpreting her through modern understanding. She was still enmeshed in the context of her era and would have seen the world first through those eyes. It is a mistake to ignore that, IMHO.

      I appreciate you sharing you interpretations, but like I said, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

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