Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen's
Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated by Whit Stillman
Little, Brown and Company, 2016; 288 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
Fans of Whit Stillman have long known the writer/director’s love of Jane Austen, ever since his 1990 debut film, Metropolitan, saw the shy but fiercely intelligent debutant Audrey defend Mansfield Park to Tom, her would-be love interest (“I don't read novels; I prefer good literary criticism,” he famously stated). How it took Stillman 26 years to finally adapt Austen to the screen is a mystery, but Love & Friendship, based on the novella Lady Susan, shows his gift at adapting the book to the screen, melding both his wit and Austen’s into a grand adaptation. While American Microreviews and Interviews hasn’t added film reviews to its roster, the arrival of Love & Friendship affords us the opportunity to read Stillman’s extension to his movie, the novelization: Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen's Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated.
The novelization is a companion to the film, much like the companion book Stillman wrote for his 1998 movie, The Last Days of Disco. This conceit allows Stillman to include asides and take on different narrative perspectives to approach the story. Like the film, the novelization tells the story of Lady Susan Vernon and her crafty ways to find a husband for her daughter while also maneuvering her own romances, all the while upending the lives of everyone she encounters. The novelization is told from the point of view of her nephew, Rufus, a small boy hardly seen and never heard, who recounts the beguiling qualities of his aunt whom he loved while occasionally disparaging Lady Susan’s author, Austen, for inaccurately capturing his beloved aunt.
Included with the novelization is the original novella. Stillman adds his own commentary to Austen’s story, chastising the author in character as Rufus with snide comments like a disgruntled reader writing their objections in the margins. The novelization for Love & Friendship offers such a rich companion read to those who love the movie and need an excuse to revisit the world that Stillman and Austen cohabit so perfectly.