A merry comedy of pride, prejudice, and duplicity.
In this spoof on a certain “spinster authoress" (aka Jane Austen), writer, director, and novelist Stillman (The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards, 2000) has fashioned a frothy tale narrated by the nephew of one Lady Susan Vernon, the title character of Lady Susan, an unfinished epistolary novel published more than 50 years after Austen's death. Unfairly maligned by the authoress, Lady Susan, the narrator maintains, was “the kindest, most delightful woman anyone could know, a shining ornament to our Society and Nation.” She was not a blatant flirt who stole one woman’s husband and another’s lover. She did not contrive to marry her daughter off to a man the girl despised; she was not a deceiver and manipulator who treated truth gingerly. “Facts are horrid things!” she once exclaimed, but the narrator does not take that remark at all seriously. Facts were horrid things in his own life: he confesses that he writes from “the ignoble abode” of prison, where he is serving a sentence for “financial and legal difficulties,” including embezzling funds that he “had every intention of restoring.” Determined to give a true and complete account, he includes footnotes for words and phrases that he supposes are not familiar to his readers: the etymology of “vindication,” for example, and the origin of the phrase “under par.” He is a stickler for punctuation: a schoolmaster convinced him of its importance in all discourse. “Over the intervening years,” he writes, “I have learned that what we are taught by our elders, no matter how seemingly improbable or ridiculous, is nearly always to be true.” The narrator appends his earnest narrative with a trove of his aunt’s letters, which he claims have been altered by the authoress to cast the estimable Lady Susan in a bad light.
Silly, sly, eccentric characters and brisk chatter make for a diverting romp.