I must say that in my current state, I find Austen’s earlier work, Lady Susan, more satisfying and engrossing than my current view of my experience with her other works. Wikipedia says this about how unusual it is,
“Although the theme, together with the focus on character study and moral issues, is close to Austen’s published work (Sense and Sensibility was also originally written in the epistolary form), its outlook is very different, and the heroine has few parallels in 19th-century literature. Lady Susan is a selfish, attractive woman, who tries to trap the best possible husband while maintaining a relationship with a married man. She subverts all the standards of the romantic novel: she has an active role, she’s not only beautiful but intelligent and witty, and her suitors are significantly younger than she is (in contrast with Sense and Sensibility and Emma, which feature marriages of men who are sixteen years older than their wives).”
What frustrates me about other 19th C. novels is the stifled unspokenness of feelings which leads to all sorts of misunderstandings that keep people apart. There is none of that here. Everyone, “good” and “bad”, says what they think. I kept being reminded of both Anna Karenina, for the unusually charming middle aged woman, and Screwtape Letters, for the unusually honest and forthright explanation of the art of evil from those who practice it.
This book has helped me to understand how a person can be fixed in evil when confronted with goodness – pride, willingness to lie, and the unwillingness (deceived inability?) to put another person’s interest before their own. I also like how the bad Lady Susan seems almost justified in her criticisms of others too. No one gets off cleanly, but she is worse because she seems more aware than the others, and continues in badness. Others are more idealistic and naive. It’s like she’s the only one who’s not living in the Matrix and is exploiting everyone else who is. The good lady, Mrs. Vernon, keeps calling her on it, but she just seems to want to plug people into more comfortable romantic, idealistic scenarios.
Where is the Incarnation in all of this? “Trust not in princes nor the sons of men in whom there is no salvation”? But does that lead to transcendent gnosticism – plugging into heaven, separate from earth and her people by focusing on the realities of the mysteries of the Church?