Lady Susan, Jane Austen 1794

Is Lady S. fiction’s first genteel anti-heroine? I adore Lady Susan. I’m not able to care, in the airy salons of the imagination, about Mrs. Mainwaring, the wealthy woman whose handsome, “bought” husband Lady Susan effectively steals. The smug and boorish patriarchy may hold all the aces, but Austen’s dashing protagonist takes it on regardless. She sees things straight, and if her daughter is pointedly nicer and kinder than she, it’s Lady Susan who vows to shore up the family’s fortunes. A feminist fantasy of a high order.