Was Jane Austen Poisoned?

On July 18, 1817, Jane Austen, the famed author of Pride and Prejudice, died. Over the years, researchers have attributed her death to a number of ailments, including Addison’s disease, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bovine tuberculosis, and typhus. But recently uncovered evidence suggests a startling new possibility…arsenic poisoning.

Was Jane Austen Poisoned?

A couple of years ago, a crime novelist named Lindsay Ashford began researching Jane Austen’s old letters. Soon after, Ashford discovered an intriguing sentence written by the author shortly before her death:

“I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour.” ~ Jane Austen

One of the symptoms of arsenic poisoning is called raindrop pigmentation, in which “patches of skin go brown or black, and other areas go white.” Intrigued, Ashford dug deeper. She learned that chronic arsenic poisoning, unlike the other proposed maladies, explained all of the symptoms exhibited by Jane Austen. Then she uncovered the fact that Austen’s hair had been tested for arsenic back in 1948.

The test was positive.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

It seems reasonable to assume that Jane Austen suffered from arsenic poisoning. But was this a deliberate attempt to murder her?

Not necessarily. Arsenic was a well-known medicine during the early 1800s, distributed via Fowler’s Solution. It was used for ailments like rheumatism, a problem which Austen complained about in her letters.

“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.” ~ Lindsay Ashford

But Ashford isn’t ready to rule out murder. In fact, her new novel, The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen, considers just that possibility.

“I don’t think murder is out of the question. 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. In the early 19th century a lot of people were getting away with murder with arsenic as a weapon, because it wasn’t until the Marsh test was developed in 1836 that human remains could be analysed for the presence of arsenic.” ~ Lindsay Ashford

Unfortunately, the only way to be certain is to dig up Jane Austen’s body and put it through a battery of rigorous tests. And that seems highly unlikely to occur. Of course, there’s another option…we could aways wait for her to rise from the grave as part of the coming zombie apocalypse!

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