Lady Susan is a creation of the writers of Sanditon and not mentioned in Jane Austen’s text. Interestingly enough, Jane Austen did pen a short novel entitled Lady Susan, thought to be written sometime in 1794 but not published until 1871. Sophie Winkleman, who is actually Lady Frederick Windsor, married to the Queen’s first cousin, graces the screen with her presence as the aristocratic lady who befriends Charlotte Heywood.
Lady Susan encounters Charlotte during Mrs. Maudsley’s masked rout in Grosvenor Square when Charlotte escapes for a breath of fresh air. Instantly, we are introduced to Lady Susan’s astute observation that Charlotte is somewhat befuddled. After hearing the reason for her emotional tizzy, Lady Susan declares the obvious that Charlotte does not see. She is in love with Sidney Parker and speaks the line we all have come to love.
My dear girl, you cannot determine who you fall in love with. It is an affliction. Like the measles.
When Lady Susan arrives in Sanditon unannounced with her entourage, the Parkers are beside themselves, and a bit befuddled themselves that she has come to visit Charlotte. We learn she is Lady Worcester and “quite notorious.” London society revolves around her and she’s “simpatico” with the Prince Regent.
With Mrs. Campion’s presence now on the scene, Lady Susan displays her regard and favor toward Charlotte, imparting to her tidbits of wisdom regarding her emotional state when it comes to loving Sidney and the unwelcomed arrival of her competition for his heart. Lady Susan shows such regard toward Charlotte, who is not of her class, naturally makes the audience love her as an endearing character for many reasons. Who can forget this look she gives to Eliza over her insensitive comment that Charlotte should stick with her choices to find a “boy” in her village. Lady Susan sees no reason why Charlotte should not marry well.
As Lady Susan spends more time with Charlotte, giving her advice, encouraging her not to give up hope, her friendship shields and comforts Charlotte as she struggles with her feelings toward Sidney. At this point in Charlotte’s journey, she needs a mature friend or mother-figure who can counsel her, and Lady Susan fits that spot. As close as Charlotte may have been with Mary Parker, there is no indication of her ever expressing her feelings about Sidney or receiving counsel in return. However, I think most of us agree that Mary silently watched and knew what transpired.
Lady Susan departs, leaving Charlotte with the words that she must not lose heart; the race is not yet run. And leaves us with another set of wonderfully written words from the writers:
Since we have spotted Sophie Winkleman in behind-the-scenes shots during filming, it’s wonderful to know that the character of Lady Susan will be returning. I do not doubt that she will resume her role as advisor to Charlotte on matters of love. I’m incredibly interested to hear what wisdom she will give Charlotte, having faced the sad outcome regarding Sidney.
I think every woman needs a Lady Susan in her life when it comes to navigating the waters of young love. Thankfully, Charlotte was given such a friend.