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Lady Susan: “the most accomplished Coquette in England”

In anticipation of the new film adaptation of Jane Austen’s comedic epistolary novella, Lady Susan, this extract introduces the main character; the charming and flirtatious Lady Susan Vernon.

LETTER 4

Mr. De Courcy to Mrs. Vernon.

PARKLANDS.

My dear Sister

I congratulate you and Mr. Vernon on being about to receive into your family, the most accomplished Coquette in England. As a very distinguished Flirt, I have been always taught to consider her; but it has lately fallen in my way to hear some particulars of her conduct at Langford, which prove that she does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable. By her behaviour to Mr. Manwaring, she gave jealousy and wretchedness to his wife, and by her attentions to a young man previously attached to Mr. Manwaring’s sister, deprived an amiable girl of her Lover. I learnt all this from a Mr. Smith now in this neighbourhood– (I have dined with him at Hurst and Wilford)—who is just come from Langford, where he was a fortnight in the house with her Ladyship, and who is therefore well qualified to make the communication.

What a Woman she must be! I long to see her, and shall certainly accept your kind invitation, that I may form some idea of those bewitching powers which can do so much– engaging at the same time and in the same house the affections of two Men who were neither of them at liberty to bestow them– and all this without the charm of Youth. I am glad to find that Miss Vernon does not come with her Mother to Churchill, as she has not even Manners to recommend her, and according to Mr. Smith’s account, is equally dull and proud. Where Pride and Stupidity untie, there can be no dissimulation worthy notice, and Miss Vernon shall be consigned to unrelenting contempt; but by all that I can gather, Lady Susan possesses a degree of captivating Deceit which must be pleasing to witness and detect. I shall be with you very soon, and am

your affect. Brother R. De Courcy.

LETTER 6

Mrs. Vernon to Mr. De Courcy.

CHURCHILL.

Well my dear Reginald, I have seen this dangerous creature, and must give you some description of her, tho’ I hope you will soon be able to form your own judgement. She is really excessively pretty. However you may chuse to question the allurements of a Lady no longer young, I must for my own part declare that I have seldom seen so lovely a Woman as Lady Susan. She is delicately fair, with fine grey eyes and dark eyelashes; and from her appearance one would not supposed her more than five and twenty, tho’ she must in fact be ten years older. I was certainly not disposed to admire her, tho’ always hearing she was beautiful; but I cannot help feeling that she possesses an uncommon union of Symmetry, Brilliancy and Grace. Her address to me was so gentle, frank and even affectionate, that if I had not known how much she has always disliked me for marrying Mr. Vernon, and that we had never met before, I should have imagined her an attached friend. One is apt I believe to connect assurance of manner with coquetry, and to expect that an impudent address will necessarily attend an impudent mind; at least I was myself prepared for an improper degree of confidence in Lady Susan; but her Countenance is absolutely sweet, and her voice and manner winningly mild. I am sorry it is so, for what is this but Deceit? Unfortunately one knows her too well. She is clever and agreeable, has all that knowledge of the world which makes conversation easy, and talks very well, with a happy command of Language, which is too often used I beleive to make Black appear White. She has already almost persuaded me of her being warmly attached to her daughter, tho’ I have so long been convinced of the contrary. She speaks of her with so much tenderness and anxiety, lamenting so bitterly the neglect of her education, which she represents however as wholly unavoidable, that I am forced to recollect how many successive Springs her Ladyship spent in Town, while her daughter was left in Staffordshire to the care of servants or a Governess very little better, to prevent my beleiving whatever she says.

If her manners have so great an influence on my resentful heart, you may guess how much more strongly they operate on Mr. Vernon’s generous temper. I wish I could be as well satisfied as he is, that it was really her choice to leave Langford for Churchill; and if she had not staid three months there before she discovered that her friends’ manner of Living did not suit her situation or feelings, I might have believed that concern for the loss of such a Husband as Mr. Vernon, to whom her own behaviour was far from unexceptionable, might for a time make her wish for retirement. But I cannot forget the length of her visit to the Manwarings, and when I reflect on the different mode of Life which she led with them, from that to which she must not submit, I can only suppose that the wish of establishing her reputation by following, tho’ late, the path of propriety, occasioned her removed from a family where she must in reality have been particularly happy. Your friend Mr. Smith’s story however cannot be quite true, as she corresponds regularly with Mrs. Manwaring; at any rate it must be exaggerated; it is scarcely possible that two men should be so grossly deceived by her at once.

Yrs &c. Cath. Vernon.

Featured image: Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale in ‘Love and Friendship’. Roadside Attractions

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