Jane Austen wasn’t a woman who lived life wrapped in tissue paper. Sex, scandals, thoughtless abusive parents; these things weren’t just subjects of salacious prints, they were realities.
Frances Wilson (the author of a biography on Regency courtesan, Harriet Wilson) revealed in her book (The Courtesan’s Revenge) that Jane actually mentioned the very young Harriet in a letter (though not by name) because Harriet’s (first admitted) named lover was connected to the Austen family circle. How many of us think of Jane as someone who’d pass on gossip about a mutual acquaintance stabling his young mistress at his country pile? Knowing this about Jane, it’s easy to see how she could write her short story, “Lady Susan”.
Lady Susan, the main character, is a despicable selfish woman. We’ve all met people like her (or found ourselves cursed to endure them for the sake of family or friends) lying sociopaths who use good looks and charm to ensnare anyone they might find useful (or to their benefit). Lady Susan, a beautiful young widow of 35, is forced by straightened means (and her failed scheming) to retreat to her brother-in-law’s home where she causes more unhappiness. After the first few letters I was glued to my computer screen. It’s a brilliant short story and one you can read on line or download for free HERE (thanks to Project Gutenberg). I highly recommend it!