Propriety’s Claims on Prudence in Lady Susan and Northanger Abbey

  • Sarah Emsley


Jane Austen’s only vicious heroine is the eponymous heroine of Lady Susan. Lady Susan Vernon is coldhearted, cruel, scheming, and delightfully wicked. She is lively in the spirit of Austen’s juvenilia, and yet this novella cannot quite be classified with the juvenilia, as it is more accomplished, longer, and more serious even in its ironic humor. It has been argued that Austen abandoned the first person epistolary style of Lady Susan because it had brought her too close to identifying with her transgressive heroine.1 While this may be part of the reason she changed her technique, it is also true that in the limited omniscient narrative voice she found a way to sympathize with her characters while still maintaining the critical distance from them that was necessary to judge them fairly: that ironic distance is what enables her to create the voices of characters such as Lady Susan, and judge them too, yet without the didactic voice of characters such as Mrs. Vernon, who explicitly condemns Lady Susan.


Moral Education Virtuous Character Female Power Natural Virtue Ironic Distance 
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© Sarah Emsley 2005

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  • Sarah Emsley

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