Can a modern-day writer help Lady Vernon’s nephew vindicate Jane Austen’s most seductive and cunning antiheroine?
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for a fair and honest review.
How do you attempt to unravel the literary genius of Jane Austen and examine the trajectory of one of literature’s greatest minds? You study her juvenilia to examine her earliest works, which brings you some new and rather alarming theories about her life as a young, and “sheltered” maiden.
If you’re a Jane Austen fan, and really, who isn’t, you read stories such as “Lady Susan” to immerse yourself within the seedlings of her young literary germinations, and find yourself scratching your head with some disbelief that a gentlewoman who lived over 200 years ago, who hadn’t yet reached her majority, had such a deep and well-ingrained sense about the more “intimate” machinations that took place between men and women during her time. Between the forty-one letters that make up Austen’s early novella, you will find an astute, observant, and sarcastic mind who took it upon herself to stitch upon those bits of ivory lace a story about the scandalous antiheroine, Lady Susan Vernon.
Last month, I had the pleasure of reviewing Whit Stillman’s movie, “Love & Friendship” where he artfully reimagined Lady Susan’s motives and brought to life a story that offers viewers an adaptation that offers the irony and tongue-in-cheek humor that I believe Austen sought to deliver through her development of Lady Susan Vernon.
In his book, “Love and Friendship”, which the movie is based on and follows closely in its tone and storyline, Mr. Stillman has found in his story’s narrator a most ardent and prolific defender of this lady in Lady Susan Vernon’s nephew, Rufus Martin-Colonna De Cesari- Rocca. Rufus asserts his unwavering desire to reframe and refute Miss Austen’s assertions, who he “affectionately” refers to as the spinster Authoress. From his earliest recollections to his discussions with other “reputable” witnesses, such as Mrs. Alicia Johnson, one of Lady Susan’s closest confidantes, Rufus offers his views along with his own “research” throughout his commentary in the story. He also inserts satirical footnotes that vary in detail throughout “Love & Friendship” and in the second part of the book, which contains Austen’s forty-one letters, his off-the-cuff reactions to the first fifteen of the forty-one letters.
This book provides an amusing diversion for readers who want to learn how Rufus sketches a somewhat compelling argument in favor of the behaviors and motives of Lady Susan. There are numerous plays on language and several moments of dry, witty humor that will keep readers happily immersed in the cleverly crafted foibles and follies of the characters within this variation. I truly appreciated that Whit Stillman took it upon himself to flesh out Lady Susan’s story, not only through his masterful movie adaptation but also through this variation of “Lady Susan.” It absolutely inspired this Janeite to give Austen’s novella and Whit Stillman’s own works based on her story, the dearest and loveliest attentions that they deserve!
With this said, I would recommend that a person who hasn’t read any of these books before, read “Lady Susan” first, and then read Whit Stillman’s book, “Love & Friendship” from front to back, in order to enjoy the original work first so that the references and humor inserted throughout Mr. Stillman’s book can be appreciated through having a familiarity of Austen’s original story. Pushing aside Austen’s epistolary structure, Stillman tells his story through a narrative structure, which helps him fill in some of the gaps in the story for readers, particularly in places within the story’s dialogues, in the development of certain characters, and also by providing more details about specific events from the story, thus bringing to the reader a story that is a bit easier to follow and perhaps, easier to visualize than Austen’s “Lady Susan.” I believe Austen came to understand these limitations herself regarding the epistolary text structure, which is probably why her six major novels were written as narrative stories instead. The book also contains two lists, one titled Principal Personages, the other, Locales, along with a diagram titled Genealogical Table, which are handy references for the reader.
EARLY PRAISE FOR LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
“Lady Susan is finally getting some long overdue respect…an eccentrically cheeky tribute.”― Alexandra Schwartz, New Yorker
“A merry comedy of pride, prejudice, and duplicity…. Silly, sly, eccentric characters and brisk chatter make for a diverting romp.”― Kirkus Reviews
“Witty and delightful.”― BookPage
“Both quirky and hilarious.”― Publishers Weekly
“Lady Susan remains deliciously wicked.” ― Julia Felsenthal, Vogue
“Stillman worships Austen and [the book and film] show a deep familiarity with her life, work, and times.”― Laura Miller, Slate
“Stillman has a fine eye for social niceties.”― Library Journal, Editor’s Pick
WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE STORY:
“Haven’t even finished reading this book — but find it truly remarkable. A new Jane Austen, worthy of the original! Imagine that Mr. Collins undertook to rewrite Pride and Prejudice, attempting to rehabilitate his own reputation and that of Lady Catherine de Bough. That gives you an idea of the approach — but the language is so lovely and the ironies so delicious! I have been laughing out loud, reading passages to my husband. My plan is to finish the book, re-read Jane Austen’s unfinished Lady Susan — and then return and re-read this one. Then I will press my copy on my most discerning friends …”
Sharon Kay Stout
From Love & Friendship:
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, opens in select theaters on May 13th.
Meet Whit Stillman:
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.
Get connected with Whit at:
- Whit Stillman’s Facebook Page
- Whit Stillman’s Goodreads Author Page
- Twitter handles: @WhitStillman; @LittleBrown;
- Twitter hashtags: #LoveAndFriendship, #WhitStillman, #Austenesque #Giveaway
A cyber-celebration in which Jane Austen fans join in their desire to see a much maligned Personage vindicated, a certain Spinster Authoress exposed and justice prevail.
Award winning writer-director-filmmaker Whit Stillman tours the blogosphere June 13 through June 24, 2016, to share his latest release, Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated. Thirteen popular book bloggers—card carrying Jane Austen fans one and all—will feature interviews, book excerpts and reviews of this highly acclaimed novel. A fabulous giveaway contest, including hardcopies of the book, will be open to those who join the festivities.
THE LOVE & FRIENDSHIP JANEITE BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:
- June 13 AustenBlog (Interview)
- June 14 The Calico Critic (Review)
- June 15 Diary of Eccentric (Excerpt)
- June 16 Laura’s Reviews (Review)
- June 17 My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
- June 17 Confessions of a Book Addict (Excerpt)
- June 20 Austenesque Reviews (Review)
- June 20 Austenprose (Interview)
- June 21 So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)
- June 21 Luxury Reading (Review)
- June 22 Just Jane 1813 (Review)
- June 23 Savvy Verse & Wit (Excerpt)
- June 24 Austenprose (Review)
Grand Giveaway Contest
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 for one of the three hardcover copies being offered of “Love & Friendship,” simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on 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 07, 2016 to claim their prizes. Shipment is to US addresses only. Good luck to all!