The Dead Writers Society

A blog about books and reading

Classics Club: The Future

Today is my Classics Club three year anniversary, and, not coincidentally, is also the day that I decide where I am going from here – because as you know from yesterday’s post, I’ve actually accomplished that initial goal of reading 50 classics in 5 years.

This is also a good time to update and regroup on some of my other projects as well. I’ve always been a fan of the fall, and it has always seemed to me that September 1st, with its back to school new beginning, its shorter days and cooler evenings, fresh notebooks and new television series, is the best time to make reading plans.

fall reading

The Agatha Christie read is clipping along like gangbusters, and I am on track to finish all of Poirot by the end of 2015. I’m way behind on posts, however, so that’s something to work on! I’ve also made significant progress on my Heyer read, although I’m behind on posts there, as well.

Which brings me to goal #1: finish my posts in a more timely fashion.

I am also most active on booklikes – this is where I post updates, non-review posts, chatty stuff, and where I comment on other people’s posts.

Which brings me to goal #2: post more memes and comment more on other blogs!

Finally, new projects:

I want to read more children’s classics – so that will be the focus of my next Classics Club project. There are several series that I will draw from to find classic children’s books:

The New York Review Books Children’s Collection publishes gorgeous editions of slightly-out-of-the-way children’s literature. I already own a couple of books from the collection, but am interested in expanding my trove. Puffin Classics, as well, publishes inexpensive editions of classic children’s books. I also own a lot of children’s books that are begging me for a reread. The only requirement for inclusion in this round of the Classics Club is that the book have been originally published at least 20 years ago, before my oldest was born, on or before 1995.

I also plan to continue exploring classics at my own pace. I want to finish The Chronicles of Barsetshire, read more Dickens, Gaskell, Bronte, Wharton and James. Maybe explore some genre classics as well.

Which brings me to goal #3: 25 more classics in two more years (by my original finish date of September 1, 2018) and 50 children’s classics in 3 years (by September 1, 2018).

Classics Club: Recap

On September 1, 2012, I started my Classics Club project with big plans – I had a long list of hard books that I intended to read. I reorganized my project about 15 months later, after I realized that an assignment list really wasn’t very much fun and was turning the project into something that I wasn’t enjoying. I updated my page with classics that I had read but that weren’t on the existing list, and then decided to scrap the list altogether and just go forward reading what struck my fancy, with some basic ideas as to where I was headed. Recently I realized that I was really close to my initial goal of 50 classics in 5 years, so I made a huge push to get everything reviewed by August 31, the three year mark.

And, whew, I made it. I’m done.

Project Recap:

Total number of pages read: 20,634

Total number of centuries spanned: 3 (1794 through 1962)

Total number of books written by women: 21. I’m actually sort of surprised by the fact that 42% of the books were written by women. I didn’t make any effort at all at gender balance, but I know that I absolutely gravitate to books written by women writers. Even in a challenge that is probably going to be heavy on dead white guys, while I didn’t make it to 50% women, I wasn’t far off.

Oldest book read: Lady Susan by Jane Austen: Lady Susan was my only 18th century work, and just barely squeaked in because it was written in 1794. A novella, it was crisp, entertaining and Austen’s portrayal of the manipulative Lady Susan was first rate. Totally underrated, in my opinion, and should be more widely read by readers who love Jane Austen.

Newest book read: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. One of my few rules was that any book I read for the Classics Club had to be at least 50 years old. This one was published 53 years ago.

Favorite author: Edith Wharton. Before the Classics Club I had only read The Age of Innocence, which I just re-read. After the Classics Club I can honestly count Wharton as one of my favorite authors. I absolutely love the complexity and depth of her books.

Favorite book: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. This book was a total treat for me. I loved so many things about it – John Thornton is right up there with Mr. Darcy in the swoon-worthy category, and many of the supporting characters were complicated and interesting. I can’t wait to read more Gaskell.

Least favorite author: Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read The Scarlet Letter and The Blithedale Romance and I can say unequivocally that I am over Hawthorne. Never again.

Most hated book: King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. What I thought I was getting: a rollicking adventure story about an Indiana Jones type character. What I got: a book that was devoid of suspense about an obnoxious, racist jackass who slaughters elephants. It had no redeeming qualities as far as I was concerned.

Longest book: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. At 1200+ pages, this was a committment that took more than a year to fulfill. I ended up really liking it, but Hugo never had a thought that he didn’t think was worthy of inclusion.

Shortest book: Lady Susan by Jane Austen. But since I already mentioned that one, the second shortest was The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, which is a fun read for the autumn season, and is more humorous that scary.

Biggest failure: Not finishing The Count of Monte Cristo after two and a half years. Not sure if I will ever go back.

Biggest success: reading four Dickens novels. I initially planned to read all 15 of Dickens’ novels, but struggled through Dombey and Son and realized that I needed a change of plans. I still eventually want to read them all, but I’m not going to force a schedule.

Rating Report
Overall: zero-stars

My Classics Club: The Finish Line

Cover collage! Recap coming tomorrow.

Rating Report
Overall: zero-stars

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South by Elizabeth GaskellNorth And South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Published by Penguin Classics on 1855
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 521
Source: Purchased: print book

'How am I to dress up in my finery, and go off and away to smart parties, after the sorrow I have seen today?'

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill-workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fused individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

I read this all the way back in January, and I loved it so much and I had so much to say that I never managed to say any of it. So, settle in. Because this is my favorite Victorian novel of all time. I adore Middlemarch, which comes close, but nothing by Dickens or Collins or Hardy or Trollope can approach the love that I feel for North and South. I can’t believe that I’d never read it.

If I must make full confession, I have to admit that this:

John Thornton

May have something to do with my love for John Thornton. Yes, I’m shallow.

But Richard Armitage isn’t the only reason that I fell in love with North and South. The reasons are numerous:

First, I love the fact that it is set in the industrial north of England, which is a change from much Victorian literature that is set in London. Added to that, the fact that some of the characters are “working class” was a tremendous treat. Nicholas Higgins was a complex character who was treated respectfully by Gaskell, which delighted me. Uneducated though he was, and a bit of a political firebrand, he was willing to humble himself in an effort to get his job back when he took on the obligation of supporting the children of a fellow mill worker who had died.

Second, Mrs. Thornton was a bad ass Victorian lady. After John Thornton’s father speculated badly and lost his money, committing suicide in despair, she was left to raise two children basically by her wits alone. Her son, hardworking and ambitious, is ultimately able to buy the mill and become the owner. He says about his mother:

“My mother managed so that I put by three out of these fifteen shillings regularly. This made the beginning; this taught me self-denial. Now that I am able to afford my mother such comforts as her age, rather than her own wish, requires, I thank her silently on each occasion for the early training she gave me.”

When I take a moment to reflect on how difficult it would have been for a woman like Mrs. Thornton to not merely survive, but to thrive and remain unbowed and unbroken, I am even more impressed by Mrs. Gaskell. Mrs. Thornton has a backbone of steel – talk about strong female characters. In addition, though, she is complex and flawed, which makes her even more compelling.

Finally, the romance between John Thornton and Margaret Hale brings out the best in both of them – eventually. Margaret begins the book haughty, upset at being moved to Milton, missing the sophisticated society of southern England. She is out of her element in the industrial north, and looks down on the working class mill workers. Over time, however, she begins to see the value in their lack of sophistication, plain speech and work ethic.

This same transition occurs with her opinion of Mr. Thornton who proves himself to be more than worthy of Margaret. It is a reversal of the Lizzie Bennett/Mr. Darcy conflict. As Darcy must come to recognize that Lizzie is his equal in spite of her lack of fortune and crazy family, so must Margaret come to the conclusion that Mr. Thornton is her equal, even if he is in trade. He proves again and again that a gentleman is not born, but is made – including when he initially proposes to her, and she rejects summarily rejects him, rather than responding with anger, he takes a different approach:

“Miss Hale might love another — was indifferent and contemptuous to him — but he would yet do her faithful acts of service of which she should never know. He might despise her, but the woman whom he had once loved should be kept from shame; and shame it would be to pledge herself to a lie in a public court, or otherwise to stand and acknowledge her reason for desiring darkness rather than light.”

It takes many months for her to realize that she has fallen in love with him, as he has fallen in love with her.

“At that third call she turned her face, still covered with her small white hands, towards him, and laid it on his shoulder, hiding it even there; and it was too delicious to feel her soft cheek against his, for him to wish to see either deep blushes or loving eyes. He clasped her close. But they both kept silence.

At length she murmured in a broken voice: ‘Oh, Mr. Thornton, I am not good enough!’ ‘Not good enough! Don’t mock my own deep feeling of unworthiness.’”

And she’s right, really – society will think she is marrying down, but it is Thornton who has proven himself to be the more noble person. In the end, they both stand up to their families and declare their love for one another

‘How shall I ever tell Aunt Shaw?’ she whispered, after some time of delicious silence. ‘Let me speak to her.’ ‘Oh, no! I owe to her, — but what will she say?’

‘I can guess. Her first exclamation will be, “That man!”‘

‘Hush!’ said Margaret, ‘or I shall try and show you your mother’s indignant tones as she says, “That woman!”‘

the kiss

Overall, I highly recommend this book to fans of Austen or Eliot. It is a novel of manners, but tackles significant themes as well: the struggle between modernity and tradition, the plight of the working class, appearance of virtue versus appearance of vice, and other things. I predict that it will turn out to be one of those books that I reread frequently.

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

Framley Parsonage by Anthony TrollopeFramley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
Published by Penguin Classics on 1861
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 576
Source: Purchased: print book

Mark Robarts is a clergyman with ambitions beyond his small country parish of Framley. In a naive attempt to mix in influential circles, he agrees to guarantee a bill for a large sum of money for the disreputable local Member of Parliament, while being helped in his career in the Church by the same hand. But the unscrupulous politician reneges on his financial obligations, and Mark must face the consequences this debt may bring to his family.

Framley Parsonage is the fourth book in Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire. I’ve not yet made it to The Small House at Allington, which is the next book in the series, and seems to be universally beloved. In my order of preference, I would go: 1. Barchester Towers; 2. Framley Parsonage; 3. The Warden; 4. Dr. Thorne.

Framley Parsonage is basically a more perfected version of the same story told in Dr. Thorne.

In his autobiography, Trollope said about Framley Parsonage:

“The story was thoroughly English. There was a little fox-hunting and a little tuft-hunting, some Christian virtue and some Christian cant. There was no heroism and no villainy. There was much Church, but more love-making.”

As I’ve previously mentioned, I have really been enjoying the Chronicles of Barsetshire, and this book was no exception. There are two main intertwined plotlines: the (mis)fortunes of the unhappy Mark Robarts, a clergyman who unwisely finds himself in the midst of shady financial dealings with notoriously profligate and unreliable Mr. Sowerby, and the romance between Ludovic Lufton, son of Mr. Robarts high-minded patroness Lady Lufton, and Mark’s sister, Lucy, who is well-below Ludovic in social class. As you can likely guess, as Mark Robartes fortunes sink as a result of his gullibility with respect to Sowerby, Lucy’s fortunes hang in the balance.

It was often painful to read of Mark’s incomprehensibly poor decision-making. There were moments when I wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled. And I’m going to disagree a bit with Trollope’s assessment – Mr. Sowerby was thoroughly villainous.

Ultimately, though, it is a very satisfactory installment in the chronicles. And, while I’ve not read it, I recently learned that Jo Walton wrote a mash-up featuring dragons instead of Victorian clericals. Which sounds like the most awesome thing ever.

Framley Parsonage with dragons. Fuck, Yeah!

Framley Parsonage with dragons. Fuck, Yeah!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington IrvingThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
on 1819
Genres: Classics - American, Classics - Victorian
Pages: 100

The first great American man of letters, Washington Irving became an international celebrity almost overnight upon publication of "The Sketch Book" in 1820, which included the short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." These two tales remain his crowning achievement, but in addition to being a writer of short stories, Irving was also an acclaimed essayist, travel writer, biographer, and historian. This volume showcases Irving's best work across a variety of genres, including whimsical newspaper articles about New York society, the theater, and contemporary fashions; charming travel pieces that evocatively weave together history and legend; humorous stories and satirical essays from "The Sketch-Book" and its sequel "Bracebridge Hall," and excerpts from "A History of New York," considered the first great American book of comic literature.

I couldn’t find a stand-alone version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for purposes of this post. However, I experienced this delightful story as an audiobook, read by the inimitable Tom Mison of Sleepy Hollow (the television series) fame. I read this last fall, but never posted a review over here. Heading back into the autumn season seems like a good time to remedy that oversight.

This is great fun for the season.

Ichabod Crane

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a fantastic listen, with its arcane and beautiful language, read in Mison’s buttery British voice. If you are a fan of the show, there is an enhancement in hearing him, with his agile and gorgeous voice, doing the reading (it always amazing to me how much a good narrator adds to the experience of listening to a story).

This isn’t horror, though. It is gently comedic slice of American life stuff – the narrator tells the story of Ichabod Crane, gangling school-master and social climber, humorously, making a bit of fun of him. There are meditations on geography, local ghost stories, farming, teaching, women, and, most of all, food. Ichabod is more than a little obsessed with filling his belly, so the discussions of pie and cake are seemingly endless. The end is amusing, and just vague enough to make one wonder.

I loved it. My daughter – who was riding with me and therefore listened by default – was less amused, taking the position that out of the one hour and fifteen minute story, the last five minutes was the only part that really mattered. Of course, she spent most of the ride texting a new boy with whom she is smitten, and she doesn’t really like pie, so who asked her anyway?

It is only an hour and fifteen minutes long, and is totally free on audible. I found it completely delightful.

Rating Report
Overall: zero-stars

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel HawthorneThe Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
on 1850
Genres: Classics - American
Pages: 228
Source: Purchased: print book

Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne's concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.

Ugh. I really hate the Puritans.


My relationship with this book is . . . conflicted. On the one hand, my number one biggest pet peeve is hypocrisy and this book is chock-full-o-hypocrisy. On the other hand, Hawthorne’s point is reasonably well-taken and his writing is quite compelling.

Everyone knows the general story: Hester Prynne, married woman whose husband is no where in the vicinity turns up pregnant, thereby establishing that she has – gasp – committed the grievous sin of adultery. Not inconsequentially, so has her partner, but given that he lacks a burgeoning belly broadcasting his sin, no one is able to name and shame him since she won’t say who it is.

Who is it? Josh Duggar. They met on Ashley Madison.

duggar ashley madison

Just kidding – it’s Reverend Dimmesdale, the town moral and spiritual leader hypocrite. I fucking hate hypocrites. Sorry for the profanity (not really). It being the 1700’s, she’s shoved into the stockades and then has to wear a scarlet letter on her dress forever.

Anyway, Hester gives birth to Pearl, a fey, otherworldly child. She’s relegated to a cabin in the woods, like the local hedge witch, where she dispenses herbal remedies and comfort to the long suffering denizens of the worst place on earth to live, if you’re a woman.

Reverend Dimmesdale, on the other hand, deteriorates into insanity because, unlike Hester, whose sin is upon her breast for all to see, his sin is hidden in the deepest, darkest, festering recesses of his soul. I think I am maybe supposed to feel bad for him. I don’t, by the way. I’m waiting for Anonymous to hack his email and expose him for the asshole that he is, along with all of the other town leaders who are no doubt getting a little something-something on the side, but since they are men, no one cares.

I like Hester, though. She makes lemonade out of lemons, for sure. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t recommend this book – or Hawthorne at all, honestly – unless you, like me, decide to do some sort of a classics project, in which case, skip the beginning Custom House part because it is tedious and adds nothing whatsoever to the story.

The end.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas HardyFar From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Published by Penguin Classics on 1874
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 433
Source: Purchased: ebook

Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in Wessex, Hardy's novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.

I read this book all the way back in March, before the release of the new film adaptation. It was chock full of crazy melodrama. I wasn’t in the mood to write a thoughtful review, so I didn’t review it over here.

I posted a review on Goodreads, however, that has turned out to be the most popular review I’ve ever written. I’m still not in the mood to write a thoughtful review, so I’m just going to repost it over here.

Hi! I’m Bathsheba Everdene!

Bathsheba Everdene

And I’m Poor Decision Making Bathsheba Everdene

Poor decision making Bathsheba Everdene

I sent a random Valentine to a guy on a neighboring farm asking him to marry me, even though I don’t even like him! This turned him into an annoying semi-stalker who spent the next several years begging me to marry him for reals!

And then, in a further display of my terrible judgment, I married a philandering asshole who only wanted my money and my luminescent beauty! The girl he really loved starved to death with his unwanted child, so he spent a bunch of my money to buy her a really great headstone, and then ran away to join the circus!

And then, when he came back from the circus for no reason whatsoever, the semi-stalker shot him. AT CHRISTMAS! In front of the whole county.

Don’t be like this me!

Bathsheba and Gabriel

Marry Gabriel Oak on page 25, like you should have, you silly cow.

Miss Majoribanks by Margaret Oliphant

Miss Majoribanks by Margaret OliphantMiss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
Series: The Chronicles of Carlingford #5
Published by Penguin Classics on 1865
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 512
Source: Purchased: ebook

Returning home to tend her widowed father Dr Marjoribanks, Lucilla soon launches herself into Carlingford society, aiming to raise the tone with her select Thursday evening parties. Optimistic, resourceful and blithely unimpeded by self-doubt, Lucilla is a superior being in every way, not least in relation to men.

emma approved

I had expected to enjoy this book much more than I did, although my experience reading it was odd. While I enjoyed it, I also struggled with it and, at one point, set it down for months with only about 20% of the book left to read, before finally finishing it up last week. I think it just wasn’t the right book at the right time, because once I decided to put it to bed, it only took me a couple of hours.

The title character, Lucilla Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks, evidently) is very Emma Woodhouse-like. The book opens with her returning home to her village of Carlingford after finishing her education, and preparing to “be a comfort to her dear papa” and intending to whip the village into shape. Heaven only knows how they survived without her. She is a pistol.

Thus, while the town ripened more and more for her great mission, and the ignorant human creatures, who were to be her subjects, showed their usual blindness and ignorance, the time drew nearer and nearer for Miss Marjoribanks’s return.

So that it cannot be denied Miss Marjoribanks’s advent was regarded in Carlingford with as much interest and curiosity as she could have wished. For it was already known that the Doctor’s daughter was not a mild young lady, easy to be controlled; but, on the contrary, had all the energy and determination to have her own way, which naturally belonged to a girl who possessed a considerable chin, and a mouth which could shut, and tightly curling tawny tresses, which were still more determined than she was to be arranged only according to their inclination.

The book goes on from there, describing the rearrangment of the home, Lucilla’s exploits in throwing dinner parties, and her romantic travails. There are three young(ish) men vying for her hand at various times, but she has decided that she will remain unmarried for ten years to enjoy herself.

One gets the sense that she is a trial to her long-suffering papa, and that, far from desiring Lucilla to “be a comfort to him,” he would just as soon be left alone with his books and his fireplace. I sympathize with this desire. All of that coming and going and youthful energy can be draining. I picture him sitting here:


Wishing mostly to be left alone to read.

As it was with Jane Austen’s Emma, Lucilla gets herself into trouble with her meddling, and causes a number of little crises in the neighborhood. One gets the impression that no one appreciates her quite so much as she appreciates herself

She had succeeded in a great many things, but yet she had not succeeded in all; and she had found out that the most powerful exertions in behalf of friends not only fail to procure their gratitude, but sometimes convert them into enemies, and do actual harm; which is a discovery which can only be made by those who devote themselves, as Miss Marjoribanks had done, to the good of the human species. She had done everything for the best, and yet it had not always turned out for the best; and even the people who had been most ready to appeal to her for assistance in their need, had proved the readiest to accuse her when something disagreeable happened, and to say “It was your fault.”

In the second stage of her progress Miss Marjoribanks found herself, with a great responsibility upon her shoulders, with nearly the entire social organisation of Carlingford depending upon her; and, at the same time, with her means of providing for the wants of her subjects sensibly diminished, and her confidence in the resources of the future impaired to an equal degree.

Anyway, the book has quite a twist at the end, and one that was really unexpected. I was moderately impressed by Margaret Oliphant – she is a lesser Victorian who has gotten little recognition. This is her most famous book, and it only has 1,242 ratings on Goodreads. Miss Marjoribanks would make a fantastic BBC television adaptation, so someone really needs to get on that.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Lady Susan by Jane AustenLady Susan by Jane Austen
on 1794
Genres: Classics - PreVictorian
Pages: 80
Source: Purchased: ebook

Beautiful, flirtatious, and recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon seeks an advantageous second marriage for herself, while attempting to push her daughter into a dismal match. A magnificently crafted novel of Regency manners and mores that will delight Austen enthusiasts with its wit and elegant expression.

Fiddle Dee Dee. The Scarlett O’Hara of Regency England

I am a woefully underread Janite, as it turns out. Sure, I’ve read the big six – her half-dozen beautifully written novels – many times. But in all of the years I’ve been reading Austen, I had never ventured into her other, sadly scarce, works. Laziness, maybe. Haughtiness, maybe. I’d read the best, why would I go backwards from there?

Well, at least in the case of Lady Susan, because it was freaking awesome. This is Jane Austen at the beginning of her career – rumor has it that she wrote Lady Susan at the age of 19 and it is undeniable that she was a born writer and a woman of great perspicacity. She nailed Lady Susan.

This is a short little novella, but it fairly crackles with wit, humor, nastiness, judgment, and realism. It is written in letters, but I never wondered what was happening. She lays bare the soul and the facade of Lady Susan, a woman who raises manipulation and calculation to its highest art. Lady Susan does everything for effect, but appears completely natural.

“She is delicately fair, with fine grey eyes and dark eyelashes; and from her appearance one would not suppose her more than five and twenty, though she must in fact be ten years older, I was certainly not disposed to admire her, though always hearing she was beautiful; but I cannot help feeling that she possesses an uncommon union of symmetry, brilliancy, and grace.”

She is a magnificent creation, the ultimate expression of what a society that praises form and ignores substance deserves. Empty of compassion, wholly self-absorbed and hedonistic, never concerned with anyone but herself. I wish that Austen had written a full-length novel including her as a character. I am left wondering about her marriage, her widowhood, her future. I’d like to know more about her long-suffering daughter, Frederica, about whom she said, cruelly:

“She is a stupid girl, and has nothing to recommend her.”

In Frederica, I saw shades of Georgiana Darcy. A shy young woman, overwhelmed by her much more assertive mother. The novella implies that she gets her happy ending. I hope so!

A woman like Lady Susan will always land on her feet (often on top of her rival). She doesn’t get the comeuppance she deserves, but her outcome is more realistic than satisfying.

This was a lot of fun. So much fun that I ended up reading sections of it out loud to my daughter, including this gem, contained in a letter from Lady Susan to her equally unscrupulous friend Mrs. Johnson, relating how she has been able to yank her young admirer back into line after it becomes apparent that she is terribly cruel to her young daughter:

“There is something agreeable in feelings so easily worked on; not that I envy him their possession, nor would, for the world, have such myself; but they are very convenient when one wishes to influence the passions of another. And yet this Reginald, whom a very few words from me softened at once into the utmost submission, and rendered more tractable, more attached, more devoted than ever, would have left me in the first angry swelling of his proud heart without deigning to seek an explanation. Humbled as he now is, I cannot forgive him such an instance of pride, and am doubtful whether I ought not to punish him by dismissing him at once after this reconciliation, or by marrying and teazing him for ever.”

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