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Source: Review copy from the editor

Christina Boyd and her “dream team” of Austenesque writers put out the best Austen-inspired anthologies, hands down. It took me a while to finish Rational Creatures, partly because my life has been so busy and reading time has been limited and partly because I wanted to savor this collection. For me, it’s easy to quickly read through stories that are lighthearted romances, and while there is some romance in these stories, the romance in my opinion wasn’t the focal point here.

These stories are about the women in Austen’s novels, a mix of prequels, sequels, and side stories covering the heroines (and everyone’s favorite antiheroine Lady Susan) as well as many secondary characters, including Charlotte Lucas, Sophia Croft, Penelope Clay, Mary Crawford, and Eleanor Tilney. I’m not going to detail each of the stories, as it’s more fun to jump right in and just go with the flow. As with all of The Quill Collective anthologies, I enjoyed each story and getting to know each of these characters in a new way. I loved how the stories delved deeper into each character — their back stories, the love stories we don’t see in Austen’s novels, their thoughts on their place in society and the limitations that accompany that status, and so much more.

Rational Creatures is a fantastic anthology that shows exactly why we love Austen’s characters: love ’em or hate ’em, Austen’s female characters each are strong in their own way. These stories gave me a new appreciation of characters who aren’t the usual favorites, like Fanny Price, or who make bad decisions, like Charlotte Lucas and Louisa Musgrove, or the “bad girls,” like Mary Crawford, or the ones we simply know little about but who must have rich stories, like Sophia Croft. The stories made me laugh, made me think, and basically made me want to re-read Austen’s novels. I really hope these Quill Collective anthologies keep coming!

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I’m thrilled to be part of The Janeite Blog Tour of Love & Friendship, which runs from June 13 to June 24. Today I offer my dear readers an excerpt of the novel, Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, which is a companion novel to the new film Love & Friendship and is based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. Also, there’s a chance to win a copy of the book.

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016First, the book description:

Whit Stillman has taken Austen’s never-finished epistolary novella, Lady Susan, reimagined it as a straight narrative, and added the hilarious new character of Rufus, Susan’s apologist nephew, who aims to clear Susan’s good name come hell or high water (even if he is doing it from “the ignoble abode” of debtors’ prison ). Despite many indications to the contrary, Rufus insists that Susan is, “the kindest, most delightful woman anyone could know, a shining ornament to our Society and Nation.” Rufus then appends his earnest tale with a collection of his aunt’s letters, which he claims have been altered by Austen to cast the estimable Lady Susan in a bad light.

Impossibly beautiful, disarmingly witty, and completely self-absorbed, Lady Susan Vernon, is both the heart and the thorn of Love & Friendship. Recently widowed, with a daughter who’s coming of age as quickly as their funds are dwindling, Lady Susan makes it her mission to find them wealthy husbands — and fast.

But when her attempts to secure their futures result only in the wrath of a prominent conquest’s wife and the title of “most accomplished coquette in England,” Lady Susan must rethink her strategy.

Unannounced, she arrives at her brother-in-law’s country estate. Here she intends to take refuge — in no less than luxury, of course — from the colorful rumors trailing her, while finding another avenue to “I do.” Before the scandalizing gossip can run its course, though, romantic triangles ensue.

With a devoted Austenian sensibility and absurd theological commentary, filmmaker and writer Whit Stillman ingeniously reimagines and completes one of our greatest writers’ unfinished works. As much homage to its muse’s perennial influence as testament to its author’s brilliance, Love & Friendship is a sharp comedy of manners, and a fiendishly funny treat for Austen and Stillman fans alike.

Love & Friendship brings a healthy helping of scandal, along with lots of laughs, to Georgian and Victorian London. Whit Stillman has also created a film version of Love & Friendship, starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, which opened in select theaters on May 13th.

An excerpt from Love & Friendship:

“The Grand Affair of Education”

In Lady Susan’s and Charles Vernon’s first meeting with Miss Summers, that lady continued the pretence that her concern was Frederica’s conduct rather than payment for her school’s excessive fees. When Charles insisted on settling whatever fees were owed, Miss Summers refused, pending a decision on Frederica’s continuance at the school — Lady Susan, however, was able to see through this tactic also.

Later, when Lady Susan mentioned her fatigued state to Charles, he reacted swiftly, urging her to return to Churchill; he would remain in town to pursue a more favourable outcome. Would Frederica be allowed to remain at school? Susan vibrated with concern for her daughter’s future. Should Frederica not be allowed to remain at Miss Summers’, where might she go? The ignominy of being “sent home” to Churchill must be avoided at all costs!

The next day, returned to Churchill, Lady Susan unburdened herself of these concerns as she walked with Reginald.

“You cannot know the emotion a mother feels when her child is — or could have been — in danger. We cannot regard our children coolly: Nature won’t permit it. You perhaps see Frederica’s actions as the dangerous egotism of a wilful child; I cannot.”

“But you believe she’s safe?”

“Physically — yes. But I’m frightened by what this reveals of an erratic nature. One loves one’s child dearly, however selfishly she might behave. Can you comprehend that?”

“Yes — but I cannot help seeing in her behaviour a terrible irresponsibility which rather outrages me. Whilst I know that, as a mother, you must see everything she does with maternal softness—”

“Yes: I would never represent my daughter as worse than her actions show her to be.”

Catherine Vernon was passing through the ground floor rooms with a letter for Lady Susan when she saw her and Reginald entering from the garden, Susan looking uncharacteristically fragile.

“Take a seat, rest,” Reginald said as he helped Susan to the nearest sofa.

“Forgive me,” Susan said. Always polite and considerate, Lady Susan felt constrained to apologize even for her faintness, which the heedless conduct of children has ever caused mothers.

“Susan, the afternoon coach brought this note,” Catherine said, handing it to her. “Perhaps Charles has succeeded with Miss Summers.”

Susan, her fingers quite trembling, broke the note’s wax seal and read its first lines.

“It’s as I feared . . . Miss Summers refuses to keep Frederica — she says she must think of her school’s reputation—”

“Preposterous!” Reginald exclaimed. “I have never heard of her school!”

Not long thereafter the sound of horses and carriage echoed from the Churchill forecourt.

“Could that be them?” Reginald asked. “What, Frederica? Here? Already?”

Lady Susan rose to see Charles and Frederica coming from the front hall in their traveling attire.

“Hullo, hullo. Well, here we are,” Charles Vernon announced pertinently.

“Is this Frederica?” Catherine asked.

“Yes,” Charles said. “Allow me to introduce our niece — charming girl — Miss Frederica Vernon.”

“Welcome, Frederica! We have longed to know you . . . My brother, Reginald DeCourcy.”

“Hullo,” Reginald nodded. “Pleased to meet you.” A certain coolness could be detected; he had already heard much in Frederica’s disfavour.

Frederica was left facing her mother. “Good afternoon, Frederica.”

“Good afternoon, Mother.”

Suddenly Frederica burst into tears and ran from the room. All looked startled except Lady Susan, who maintained an exemplary composure:

“It is as I had feared . . . Excuse me, I must go to my daughter.”

Lady Susan — patient, graceful, compassionate — left to find her child.

“What was that?” Reginald asked. “Extraordinary.”

“Poor Frederica,” Catherine said, already her ally.

“Poor mother of Frederica!” Reginald replied.

“What?”

“The daughter is, I understand, a . . . troubled girl.”

“I only saw fear.”

The tension between brother and sister had grown like a black cloud from which, at any moment, lightning might strike. Wherever Lady Susan was concerned, opinions clashed — neither thought the other reasonable. This often happens when people disagree.

“Frederica hasn’t had tea,” Charles said. “It could be lack of nourishment.”

Catherine left to have a second tea service prepared.

“Charming girl — though quiet,” Charles said when he and Reginald were left alone. “Have always appreciated that. Gives one the chance to think.”

Valuing Friendship Highly

Frederica’s arrival posed another conundrum: Where was she to stay? Mrs. Cross already occupied the logical spot, the small room connected to Lady Susan’s suite. The castle’s South and East wings were still in disrepair, leaving the servants’ wing the only practical alternative. The Brown Room there, though small, was actually quite pleasant, and Lady Susan considered it entirely adequate for Frederica’s comfort, while recognizing that such decisions were properly the Vernons’.

Years later an aged Churchill retainer described to me the “ashen look on Mrs. Cross’ face” as she and her small trunk were removed to the new location. (When I visited Churchill I was myself lodged in the Brown Room and am certain no slight or disrespect was intended.)

The worry over the rooms turned out to have been needless. Within the fortnight Mrs. Cross would depart Churchill. Lady Susan stood at the window of Churchill’s great hall watching as Mrs. Cross’ small trunk was carried to the carriage. One can imagine the poignancy of her feelings as her friend and confidante departed. Charles Vernon joined her there as the carriage pulled off.

“Poor Mrs. Cross has been obliged to accept a paying position in Buckinghamshire,” Lady Susan lamented. “As there was an element of friendship involved I realized that the paying of wages would be offensive to us both.”

“You value friendship highly,” Charles remarked.

“Yes. I hope I was of some help to her.”

Find Love & Friendship:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About the author:

Whit Stillman was born in Washington, D.C., and attended Harvard, where he was an editor of the Harvard Crimson before working in book and magazine publishing. He has written and directed five films, including the award-winning Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco, and Damsels in Distress, as well as the TV show The Cosmopolitans. His first novel, The Last Days of Disco, won the 2014 Prix Fitzgerald. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, Harper’s, The Guardian, Vogue, and other publications. Visit his unofficial website for updates on this latest Amazon series The Cosmopolitans, and follow him on Twitter as @WhitStillman and on Facebook.

Giveaway Details:

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 any or all of the blog stops on the The Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour starting June 13, 2016, through 11:59 pm PT, June 30, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Austenprose on July 1, 2016. Winners have until July 7, 2016, to claim their prize. Shipment is to U.S. addresses. Good luck to all!

To follow the Love & Friendship blog tour, click the banner below.

Love  Friendship Blog Tour graphic banner

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

…our party is enlarged by Mrs. Vernon’s brother, a handsome young man, who promises me some amusement.  There is something about him that rather interests me, a sort of sauciness, of familiarity which I shall teach him to correct.  He is lively and seems clever, and when I have inspired him with greater respect for me than his sister’s kind offices have implanted, he may be an agreeable flirt.

(from Lady Susan in Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon, page 52)

Lady Susan is a very short novel (less than 100 pages) by Jane Austen, considered one of her “minor works.”  It was likely written in 1793 or 1794, but it was not published until after her death.  Lady Susan is an epistolary novel, and it’s the only novel I’ve read by Austen with a horrid “heroine” — but that’s what makes her so interesting.

Lady Susan Vernon is a recent widow who had an affair with a married man, whose wife’s jealousy, along with her efforts to find a husband for her daughter, have prompted her to flee and stay with her brother-in-law and his wife.  Lady Susan is a very selfish person who acts horribly toward her daughter, Frederica, who refuses to marry the man her mother has chosen for her.  In addition to stringing along Manwaring, the man with whom she had the affair, Lady Susan sets her sights on her sister-in-law’s brother, Reginald, much to Mrs. Vernon’s dismay.  While Lady Susan’s close friend, Mrs. Johnson, indulges her despite the fact that her husband wants her to end their relationship, Mrs. Vernon sees Lady Susan for who she is and takes pity on Frederica.

I enjoyed Lady Susan and its overly dramatic characters, but the limitations of the epistolary novel are evident.  There is little character development, and the primary voices in the book are Lady Susan’s and Mrs. Vernon’s, though a few minor characters chime in here and there.  Because the book is written in letters, the conversations and actions are being retold after they happened, and they lose some of their immediacy.

Still, Lady Susan is highly entertaining.  I found it interesting how Austen put a woman in the role of a shameless adulterer, though Lady Susan’s seeking another husband with a fortune is similar to the storylines in her more well-known novels.  However, what’s different and intriguing is that Lady Susan is much older than the men she hopes to attract.  And while I couldn’t like her or have much sympathy for her in the end, she certainly was amusing.  Another must-read for Austen fans!

Disclosure: Lady Susan is from my personal library.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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