Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Austen and Arsenic

Maybe Jane Austen died of arsenic poisoning, posits The Guardian.

Austen fans have constantly debated what led to her early death at just 41. From Addison's disease, to the cancer Hodgkin's disease and the auto-immune disease lupus, various illnesses have been laid at her door.

Now crime novelist Lindsay Ashford has put forth reasoning to support her thesis that it was by arsenic poisoning. As she was researching her latest novel in Chawton House library, she found a sentence that Jane wrote a few months before she died: "I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour."

"Having researched modern forensic techniques and poisons for her crime novels, Ashford immediately realised the symptoms could be ascribed to arsenic poisoning, which can cause 'raindrop' pigmentation, where patches of skin go brown or black, and other areas go white."

In Austen's time, arsenic was a compound found in a few medicines, such as Fowler's Solution, which was prescribed for the treatment of rheumatism—something Austen complained of in her letters.

We may never really know what couldn've caused Austen's death, but Ashford is having a fun time exploring it in her new novel The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.