Lady Susan Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 36-page guide for “Lady Susan” by Jane Austen includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Importance of Marriage and The Societal Pressures Placed on Women.
The narrative follows the exploits of Lady Susan, a beautiful and charming widow whose husband has recently died. Lady Susan is an excellent conversationalist who manipulates men into falling in love with her; they forget her socially unacceptable behavior and incorrigible flirtations after merely speaking with her. At the outset of the novella, Lady Susan has sold off her late husband’s family estate instead of giving it to his younger brother, Charles Vernon, as is custom. There are implications that she has done this to maintain her opulent lifestyle and to pay off some debts she has accrued. As a result, Susan must find other places to live. She takes great glee in her freedom resultant from her husband’s death, although she knows she must marry both herself and her daughter, Frederica, to continue her lifestyle.
A month after her husband’s death, Susan goes to visit the Manwarings for three months, which is where the audience finds her at the beginning of the novella. The Manwarings reside in Langford, and Susan admits that she has seduced the married Mr. Manwaring into falling in love with her right under the nose of his wife. It is unclear whether or not she actually commits adultery with him, as the sexual extent of their relationship is obfuscated by Susan’s own lies and manipulations. Mrs. Manwaring is utterly beside herself, and the familial chaos that ensues endlessly entertains Susan, although she realizes that she has worn out her welcome in their home. Susan also successfully convinces Sir James Martin to put aside Mr. Manwaring’s sister for her own daughter, Frederica, even though both Susan and Frederica find Sir James obnoxious and weak. Susan admits to her confidante and co-conspirator, Mrs. Alicia Johnson, that Susan briefly considered the young Sir James as a possible matrimonial match for herself but has decided that his wealth alone will not make their marriage a happy one.
After fleeing Langford, Susan leaves Frederica at an expensive London school she cannot afford. She and Alicia deceive Mr. Johnson, Alicia’s husband, into allowing the two friends to spend time together whilst she is in London, during which time they hatch a plan to allow Susan to continue writing letters to Manwaring and encouraging his affection under the guise of Mrs. Johnson’s name. Shortly thereafter, Susan leaves London for an extended stay at her brother-in-law’s country house in Churchill at Charles’s behest, even though Susan does not like either Charles or his wife, Catherine. Susan decides to use this stay to figure out how to gain the most out of matrimonial plans for herself and her daughter.
Her stay at the Vernon’s is not without mischief itself, as Charles’s wife, Catherine, does not like Lady Susan, mostly because Susan had previously tried to prevent Charles from marrying Catherine altogether. Similarly, Catherine has also heard tales of Susan’s exploits with married and single men alike, tales that have also reached the ears of Catherine’s bachelor brother, Reginald. Catherine begs Reginald to visit to protect her from Susan’s behavior, and Reginald hastily agrees: He wants to see the infamously deceitful coquette for himself, astounded that any man could be so dumb and blind as to fall for Susan’s manipulations.
When Reginald visits, he too succumbs to Susan’s charms and ends up falling in love with her after Susan convinces him that all the rumors about her behavior are merely slander. Susan enjoys being able to easily manipulate Reginald, who is much younger than she, especially because it upsets his sister, Catherine. Susan also enjoys the challenge because she knows Reginald’s previous bias against her, making her victory over him all the sweeter. Upset at the fast and undeniably flirtatious friendship that has developed between Susan and Reginald, Catherine desires Reginald to return to their parents’ house away from…