Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
(Note: This review is coming from the perspective of someone who has not yet had the pleasure of seeing the movie, Love and Friendship, but has previously read Jane Austen’s epistolary novel, Lady Susan.)
TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Retelling, Epistolary Novel
SETTING: England, 1794 (Surrey, Kent, and London to be specific)
MAIN CHARACTERS: Lady Susan Vernon, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Vernon, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, Miss Frederica Vernon, Mr. Reginald DeCourcy, Sir James Martin, The Spinster Authoress, and our narrator – Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca
WHY I WANTED TO READ THIS NOVEL:
- Only once in a blue moon will an author attempt to write about Jane Austen’s Lady Susan!
- I read and enjoyed Lady Vernon and Her Daughter back in 2009 (which did redeem Lady Susan) and was interested to see Mr. Stillman’s interpretation.
WHAT I LOVED:
- Sparkling and Sharp: This is how I would describe the humor of this story. The narrative is written from the point-of-view of a younger relation of Sir James Martin who claims to possess the “extraordinary ability to imagine just how everything was, even in those circumstances when [he] could not have been present.” Not sure how much of reliable a source Rufus is, but it is clear from his first paragraph he is a bit of a buffoon puffed up with self-importance. I think Mr. Stillman was poking fun at a lot of Jane Austen’s characters who rattle, pontificate, and are cut from the same cloth. Aside from his pointed and subjective defense of Lady Susan, Rufus’s takes plenty acerbic jabs at Jane Austen and the DeCourcy family and how they manipulated and falsified the true history of this story.
- Layout: What may not be evident from the book blurb is that this book is divided into two different parts. The first is Rufus’s narrative of the events, the second is Jane Austen’s complete novella Lady Susan with some annotations and such from Rufus. So if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Lady Susan yet or if it has been awhile, no need to fret – it is included in this tome! Even though I read Lady Susan a little over a year ago, I appreciated that it was included here so I could read it again.
- Fleshed Out: In Lady Susan, not all characters exchange correspondence with each other. There are some characters we only learn about through the letters of others. I really enjoyed how this narrative gave readers a fuller picture of all the key players in this story. I especially enjoyed the extra attention given to Sir James Martin, Frederica Vernon, and Charles Vernon.
- Helpful Extras: Character list, locations list, genealogical table, and numerous annotations – I love all the organized and useful extras provided in this book. They definitely lend themselves to understanding the story better.
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
- Sometimes Hard to Follow and Inconsistent: Some of Rufus’s speeches are a bit long-winded and circuitous, which while hilarious in a Mr. Collins/Dogberry kind of way, they sometimes left me wanting to say like Mr. Bennet “I have not the pleasure of understanding you.” Especially early on in the story. In addition, I was disappointed that Rufus only had comments on Letters 1-15 of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. After reading his snarky remarks and edits for the first fifteen I started to look forward to seeing them after each letter, but from Letters 16-41 they were discontinued because Rufus felt the “malicious falseness” of Jane Austen’s account to be “self-evident.”
I think Whit Stillman’s retelling of Lady Susan is a remarkably clever and appropriate way to celebrate Jane Austen’s selfish, scheming, and infamous antiheroine. While maybe not entirely successful in the attempt to vindicate Lady Susan, like Jane Austen’s novella, this work was a satirical and irreverent diversion! I’m looking forward to comparing it to the film!
Win 1 of 3 Fabulous Hardcover Copies of Love and Friendship!!!
In celebration of the release of Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, Mr. Stillman’s publisher, Little, Brown & Co. has kindly offered a chance to win one of three hardcover copies of the book!
To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on this post.
- This giveaway is open to US residents. Thank you, Little Brown & Company!
- This giveaway ends June 30th!
- Winners will be posted on Austenprose on July 1st, 2016. Winners have until July 7th, 2016 to claim their prize!
Check out the other tour stops HERE!