Susan Ferrier, the Scottish Jane Austen

I am thoroughly enjoying reading Marriage by Susan Ferrier. I had never heard of this author, yet she was a very successful writer in the nineteenth century and her books were much admired by Sir Walter Scott. In fact, she earned far more from her writing than Jane Austen herself. But her name has disappeared from readers’ minds.

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Thanks to the Scottish writer, Val McDermid, that, hopefully, will change soon. She is publicising Ferrier’s work by having it illuminated across buildings in Edinburgh, Susan’s home town. Follow the link to read all about it.

Marriage is set in Edinburgh, the Highlands and London and follows two generations of women, mother and daughter, with very different views of life and love. Lady Juliana elopes with her lover, whom she marries and almost instantly regrets it when she meets up with his family in the Highlands. One of her daughters, Mary, is brought up by her aunt there while Lady Juliana returns to London and life, as she sees it. Mary eventually joins her there but is not enamoured of her mother and her behaviour.

Throughout, Ferrier’s wit and humour enliven the story and her telling little details of Scottish life in the capital and in the north, as well as her knowledge of London society, combine to produce a story to rival that of Austen at her best.

I can’t tell you the ending as I’m not there yet, but I wouldn’t spoil it for any of you potential readers even if I did.

10 thoughts on “Susan Ferrier, the Scottish Jane Austen

  1. I am currently writing a literary biography of Susan Ferrier. I find the cover of the new edition of ‘Marriage’ totally inappropriate, depicting as it does two very soppy Regency young women. ‘Marriage’ is a satirical essay on the institution of marriage in the early C19 and is a waspish swipe at the position of women at the time. It is the total opposite of soppy. It was published 26 years after the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It would regarded as feminist if the term had been invented in 1818.

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  2. How interesting, Julie. I look forward to reading it when it is published. I have finished reading ‘Marriage’ now and some of the scenes were memorable – Mrs Bluemits’ ladies circle in particular.

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    • Yes. Weren’t they all ghastly? Her characters were based on people she knew in Edinburgh. They often recognised themselves and exclaimed delightedly, ‘ Oh, it’s me, it’s me’. And the publisher, Blackwood, had no hesitation in accepting the MS for publication because he too recognised the originals and immediately offered her (though actually she wrote anonymously) an advance. Meanwhile W Scott was not offered an advance for Waverley.

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    • I don’t know yet because I haven’t finished writing it. But I’ve had a lot of help from a descendant of SF’s sister – he has let me read literally hundreds of SF’s letters in manuscript. He recently sent me a copy of a review of the new edition of Marriage in The Times. It was pretty damning, mainly because the novel has no plot, and because some of the dialogue was written in impenetrable Scotch [sic]
      The research has taken a long time. Do you know Edinburgh at all? SF was born in Lady Stair’s Close (where the Writers’ Museum is – they’d never heard of her). She then moved to 25 George St, part of what is now the George Hotel. Next door to the Ferriers lived the voluble Edmonstone sisters, presumably in the building with the very ornate white facade. I hope it was ornate when they lived there because it suits the three elderly sisters who appear, not very heavily disguised, in ‘Marriage’.
      Julie

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  3. Yes I know Edinburgh quite well and have visited the Writers’ Museum. How fascinating to read her letters – was she as much a nippy sweetie in them as in the book?
    I have a novel coming out shortly which is set in Edinburgh – a contemporary Scottish romance aimed at the US market. Nothing academic about it but good fun to write.

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    • My biography, I suppose, is academic, because I am an academic, but I’ve written it in as accessible a way as possible. I think SF would be horrified if I wrote it in a stiff academic way. She had a good sense of humour. It depends on the recipient of the letter whether she’s a nippy sweetie or not. Her letters to her friend, Charlotte Clavering, a niece of the Duke of Argyll. These letters are good fun. Birlinn have expressed an interest in publication, but, because they say the book has a niche market, I’d have to find about £3000 to boost things. I may try Creative Scotland, or another publisher. Any advice? What’s the title of your novel? I’ll keep an eye out for it.

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