Why did Jane Austen die so young, with so many great books still to be written? Could it have been… P O I S O N ?
Crime author Lindsay Ashford is rattling the porcelain teacups of Austen’s fans with that claim. “I’m convinced Jane Austen was poisoned by arsenic,” she writes in the Daily Mail:
“My mind was racing. The arsenic in Jane’s hair meant that she had ingested the poison in the months before her death…. Could Jane have died from arsenic poisoning?”
Now, double disclaimer: this is the Daily Mail, home to such deep-thinking headlines as “Jennifer Love Hewitt Looks Heartbroken as She Picks Up Comfort Food in Sweats and No Make-Up.” And Lindsay Ashford happens to be flogging a new whodunit novel titled The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen. So, gentle reader, arsenic emptor.
Still, the theory is interesting. Ashford says it was triggered by a letter Jane Austen wrote to a friend a few months before her death:
Describing weeks of illness she had recently endured, [Austen] wrote: ‘[I] am considerably better now and recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour.’…What Jane described sounded very much like symptoms of arsenic, which causes skin-spotting if taken in small doses over a long time. Known as the ‘raindrop’ effect, it causes some patches of skin to go dark brown or black; other areas lose all pigment to go white.
Jane was known for her sharp tongue and she undoubtedly drew on the lives of those around her in her novels. Could she have offended someone enough to invite murder?