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Was Jane Austen poisoned to death?

Conspiracy theories about the untimely deaths of major authors appear to be turning into something of a cottage industry. Over the summer, an Italian scholar let loose with his supposition that the car crash that took the life of Albert Camus might have been the work of Soviet KGB agents. Now, a British crime novelist named Lindsay Ashford is forwarding a new theory as to what claimed the life of beloved author Jane Austen at the tender age of 41. Ashford contends that it is possible Austen died from arsenic poisoning.

According to the Guardian, Ashford claims it is “highly likely” Austen was poisoned by arsenic contained in medication prescribed by a physician, but she would not entirely rule out one other possibility: “I don’t think murder is out of the question.”

Ashford attributes her speculation about the reasons for Austen’s death to her research into poisons for her own crime novels. In her letters, Austen complained of a blotchy complexion, which Ashford identifies as one of the key symptoms of arsenic poisoning.

From the Guardian:

“After all my research I think it’s highly likely she was given a medicine containing arsenic. When you look at her list of symptoms and compare them to the list of arsenic symptoms, there is an amazing correlation…. I’m quite surprised no one has thought of it before, but I don’t think people realise quite how often arsenic was used as a medicine. [But] as a crime writer I’ve done a lot of research into arsenic, and I think it was just a bit of serendipity, that someone like me came to look at her letters with a very different eye to the eye most people cast on Jane Austen. It’s just luck I have this knowledge, which most Austen academics wouldn’t.”

The murder theory extends from research Ashford did while writing her latest novel, coincidentally entitled The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen. “Having delved into her family background, there was a lot going on that has never been revealed and there could have been a motive for murder.”

Generally accepted theories about Austen’s death centre on maladies such as Addison’s disease, cancer, or lupus.


November 14th, 2011

2:35 pm

Category: Book news