It was revealed last month through the research of Lindsey Ashford for her latest book that Jane Austen may have in fact died as a result of arsenic poisoning. As arsenic was largely used medicinally at the time it is likely that Austen may have been poisoned by the very cure she thought herself to be taking, rather than that she was the victim of a murder most foul. That won’t stop some from speculating and others from believing the worst, but I find the whole possibility very sad.
The death of Jane Austen at 41 was enough of a tragedy for me to contemplate, for though that is not necessarily young it is a far cry from what I consider old whatever the times. Considering that her mother and sister both lived into their eighties it is very young, a life half lived. But to think that her life was cut short not by any illness she suffered, but by unintended poisoning? Tragic.
I don’t think Miss Austen would have even thought to include such an ironic element in her writing. Even though it would have certainly happened in real life, what would be the point in a story? It would seem too coincidental or unnecessarily tragic. It is even worse than the ladies who died of lead poisoning due to the use of lead as an essential ingredient in makeup. One could quip that vanity can be deadly, but to die from the use of arsenic because it was pandered as a cure for what ails? There is nothing even remotely humorous in that. Ironic, perhaps, but not humorous.
Had Jane Austen been ill and received a proper treatment to restore her health, I feel sure that more works would have been added to the literary cannon. She did have a few still in progress. That possibility is a fascinating one to consider, and increases the sadness of it all.
What are your thoughts on the matter? How many more novels might we have to enjoy from Jane Austen had she lived as long as her mother and sister?
*Photo: Jane Austen’s grave by markhillary, obtained through Flickr.