MS. MA 1226, Morgan Library & Museum, New York

See diplomatic display

The untitled manuscript, known as Lady Susan, from the name of its chief character, Lady Susan Vernon, is a fair copy, written out in Jane Austen’s own hand no earlier than 1805. It is the only complete manuscript of a novel by Austen known to survive and was first published in 1871, from a further non-authorial copy, when James Edward Austen-Leigh appended it, with other fragments1 to the second edition of his Memoir of Jane Austen. At this stage it was publicly given the title Lady Susan, though it may already have been known by that name within the family. Misleadingly the spine of the 1871 Memoir was lettered ‘Lady | Susan | &c.’, giving the work a particular prominence within the volume, though whether intentionally or not is uncertain.2 The work is a novella, written in letters, and has been described by Mary Lascelles thus: ‘Among the manuscripts, Lady Susan alone is a discreet, unrevealing, fair copy’.3 A transcription of the manuscript was edited by R. W. Chapman for the Clarendon Press, Oxford, in 1925; a photofacsimile of the manuscript, together with Chapman’s 1925 printed edition, was issued by Garland Publishing, New York, in 1989.4


The manuscript descended from Cassandra Austen to her niece Fanny Knight, by this time Lady Knatchbull (1793-1882), who also inherited the bulk of Jane Austen’s letters to Cassandra. It apparently only came to light at Lady Knatchbull’s death (hence the use of a non-authorial copy in 1871). It was inherited by her son, Edward Lord Brabourne (1829-93), editor of Letters of Jane Austen (2 vols, 1884) and appeared as Lot 952 in the sale of Lord Brabourne’s library held at Puttick and Simpson, London, 26-28 June 1893.5 It again appeared at a Sotheby’s sale, 17 December 1898, as Lot 203, where it is described as ‘Austen (Jane) Original Manuscript, entirely in her autograph, of her novel “Lady Susan”, consisting of 158 pages, inlaid and inserted in the first printed edition, orange morocco, the sides tooled in gold’.6 Lord Rosebery bought Lady Susan for £90 from the London dealer J. Pearson and Company around the turn of the century and it remained in his library until 1933. (Chapman acknowledges Lord Rosebery’s ownership in his ‘Preface’ to the 1925 printing – ‘by the courtesy of its present owner, the Earl of Rosebery’.7) It was sold at the Rosebery sale at Sotheby’s on 26 June 1933, as Lot 268, the catalogue entry describing it as ‘THE FINEST LITERARY MS. OF JANE AUSTEN extant’. It went for £2,100 to Walter M. Hill of Chicago. At the time, this was a record price for a Jane Austen manuscript.8 In 1947, Belle da Costa Greene, Director of the Morgan Library, acquired it for the collection from the New York dealer James F. Drake, for a sum rather less than Hill had paid: $6750 (Hill’s £2,100 converted at the time as $8,812).

Physical structure

The Morgan catalogue, following Chapman’s brief description in his 1925 edition, states that the manuscript is made up of 80 quarto leaves and that it is written on 79, with the first leaf blank. But as it now stands the manuscript consists of 81 quarto leaves, measuring each approximately 188 x 155 mm. At some point two leaves were pasted together and mounted as one. It is written throughout on one stock of paper which has a watermark of a lion within a crowned oval, and a countermark of ‘SHARP | 1805’. Further, much of the evidence of the original physical structure of this manuscript has been lost in its removal from the original binding. This rebinding must have occurred after 1871 and before 1898. At this stage it was trimmed and presented as a series of single leaves inlaid to large quarto size and bound by Rivière with the 1871 printed text of Lady Susan in an album described in the Sotheby sale of 1898 as ‘orange morocco, the sides tooled in gold’. The manuscript now appears, like Persuasion, as a series of single leaves, with the original structure and appearance lost. It is possible to conjecture the original structure from what remains, and it would seem that this manuscript was written into a bound blank quarto notebook, made in the same manner as those used for the juvenilia. In this case, the notebook originally comprised six quires with each quire folded from eight half sheets of paper. Several blank leaves must have been discarded when the manuscript was rebound.9

The manuscript

The manuscript is written throughout in a clear hand in a brown/black iron gall ink with little sign of rewriting or erasure. [p. i] has two attached labels in two unknown hands (the first possibly that of Cassandra Austen): ‘For | Lady Knatchbull’ and below that ‘Original ms of Jane Austen’s | Lady Susan’. [p.ii] is blank. Bound in at the beginning is a letter from Jane Austen’s grand nephew, Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen, 1st Baron Brabourne, to an unspecified bookseller, dated 16 January 1891, stating his intention to sell the manuscript. There is no autograph title page to this manuscript. After a blank opening leaf ([p. i] and [p. ii] in the pagination list below) Jane Austen begins pagination with ‘Letter 1’. Thereafter, the manuscript is paginated consistently throughout in Austen’s hand from p. 1 to p. 158. This breaks down only once, between p. 153 and p. 154, where Austen turned over two leaves in error, creating a blank opening. Subsequently, the blank verso of p. 153, and the blank recto of p. 154 were pasted together and mounted as one leaf (presumably when the manuscript was rebound, before 1898).

Pagination and physical structures as they are recorded in the digital edition: front (left) board; front (left) pastedown; [p.i-p.ii]; p.1-p.153; two blank pages [p.154, p.155]; p.154-158; back (right) pastedown; back (right) board.

See also the conservation report.


The Watsons, the so-called ‘cancelled’ chapter of Persuasion, and heavily edited extracts from Sanditon. Back to context...
Gilson M130. Back to context...
Mary Lascelles, Jane Austen and Her Art (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939), p. 88. Back to context...
Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, with a preface by A. Walton Litz (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989). Back to context...
Puttick & Simpson, Catalogue of the Valuable Library of the Late Right Hon. Lord Brabourne ... (London, 1893), p. 54. Lots 928-951 comprised letters of Jane Austen. Back to context...
Gilson F5; Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, Catalogue of Valuable Books, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, etc. ... (London, 1898), p. 17. Back to context...
Lady Susan [ed. R. W. Chapman] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925). Back to context...
Sotheby’s, Catalogue of the Well-Known and Very Valuable Library Formed at the Durdans, Epsom, by the late Rt. Honble. The Earl of Rosebery ... (London, 1933), p. 33; Christine Nelson, ‘Jane Austen in the Morgan Library: History of a Collection’, unpublished paper presented to the New York chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America, 21 January 1995 (updated 2005). A detailed catalogue record for Lady Susan can be found on Corsair, the Morgan’s online catalogue Back to context...
Conjectural collation for the original notebook, by Andrew Honey: 112 (i-ii, 1-22) [originally 16 now missing 1-4], 216 (23-54), 316 (55-86), 416 (87-118), 516 (119-150), 65 (151-153, +2, 154-158) [originally 16 now missing 6-16]. For more information, see Andrew Honey’s detailed physical description of the construction and present state of the notebook under Conservation Reports. Back to context...