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A recipe for word vomit
Wiegertje Postma
19 December 2022
published in Issue Two
Lady Susan
Jane Austen

(Penguin Classics, 2022)

There is one fictional scene I think back to often, in which the cup of discomfort overfloweth. It’s a scene from Love & Friendship (2016), written and directed by Whit Stillman, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. Lady Susan is an uncharacteristic Austen. It’s an epistolary novella, for one, written when she was about 18 and never submitted for publication. (It was published posthumously in 1871.) And its titular heroine, Susan Vernon, is a predator, charming and aggressively manipulative — a widowed seducer of men, a destroyer of peaceful homes — who in the end will strut away without any real lesson learned.

Love & Friendship is an uncharacteristic Austen adaptation, in the sense that it has very little tenderness or thirst for sentiment. It serves neat the cocktail of constraint, the balance of scorn and carefully measured empathy that makes a novel of manners like Lady Susan so great to begin with. I feel this most deeply in my favorite scene, in which the character of Sir James Martin struggles to stay afloat in the unsteady stream of his own word vomit. 

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Alas, not a word that appears in the Austen corpus. I guess you could say his character was wholly disagreeable to all who made his acquaintance? Or something?

Don’t get me wrong: I love the anxious, luxurious suspense of waiting for two gorgeous Georgians to finally make out, and I’ve enjoyed every Austen adaptation except Pride & Prejudice (2005): an absolute abomination. 

I had to look this up, but a pelisse is a full-length fitted coat. So Catherine and Susan fled the scene to put on their jackets.