In her teens, Jane Austen wrote an epistolary novella. It was published decades after her death as Lady Susan. It's flawed, but entertaining. Lady Susan is a manipulative yet observantly witty, and is a dominating character--no one else in the narrative is of much interest.
It involves money and marriage, no surprise, and is no one's idea of a romance. Lady Susan tries to marry her daughter off to a wealthy but otherwise inappropriate suitor, but her plans are thrown off by her own urge to misbehave with yet another man. A good manipulator is never manipulated by her own emotions, so Lady Susan falls short of the ideal.
Whit Stillman recently turned the book into the movie Love and Friendship (named after quite a different unfinished Austen work, even though there is little enough of either in the book, or the movie). It's a chilly and austere enterprise, probably not worth seeing if you haven't read the book.
It is interesting to read, because it's always interesting to see a writer working with favorite themes but with incomplete control of technique. Since the novel is written in letters, the letters must be written to someone. So Lady Susan confides all her machinations to her friend Alicia Johnson. Alicia has no role in the narrative, save as uncritical cheerleader to Lady Susan, and is give a perfunctory background life with an unsatisfactory husband. She's a bit like a pillar in the middle of the living room put in to support to roof by an architect who hadn't figured out a way to work it into the design.
In the movie, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) keeps popping into London from the country house she is staying in to visit Alicia (Chloe Sevigny, played as American, presumably to expand the film's market) whenever she needs to talk to her, as if there's a commuter train between the two. If Alicia had been an actual part of the narrative, that would have been easier for Stillman to manage.
One thing I really like about Lady Susan is that she is a bad mom. And this is just a fact about her, not much more terrible than her other personality traits. In most fiction, being a bad mom is the worst thing a woman can be. Bad dad...well, hey, that's a hard job, no wonder us guys screw it up now and then. Lady Susan describes her daughter as a bit of a dullard. Mean, but entirely accurate, in both book and movie. She is phenomenally dull. Her only use really is to get married off so that mom can continue to live an overleveraged life.
The story feels truncated, as if Austen went on to other, more promising projects (Sense and Sensibility, originally Elinor and Marianne was apparently also epistolary in its original draft) and never got back to it. Kind of a pity. If Alicia Johnson, earnest confidante, had turned into an actor in her own right, with goals that gradually diverge from Lady Susan's, it might have been quite something. Call it Will and Idea, and scoop Schopenhauer into the bargain....
I read this for my favorite book group, where I always find myself reading something unexpected.