Join 3,432 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of vial of arsenic, must be in want of a wife."
November 15, 2011 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Jane Austen 'died from arsenic poisoning'. [The Guardian] Crime writer Lindsay Ashford bases claim on reading of author's letters and claims murder cannot be ruled out. Almost 200 years after she died, Jane Austen's early death at the age of just 41 has been attributed to many things, from cancer to Addison's disease. Now sleuthing from a crime novelist has uncovered a new possibility: arsenic poisoning.
posted by Fizz (37 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man, this is going to rank right up there with Who Murdered Chaucer?, by Terry Jones (yes, that guy).
posted by resurrexit at 12:21 PM on November 15, 2011


Man, this is going to rank right up there with Who Murdered Chaucer?, by Terry Jones (yes, that guy).

But we already know who murdered Chaucer? My 10th grade English teacher.
posted by Fizz at 12:23 PM on November 15, 2011 [18 favorites]


She should never have agreed to write all those plays for that 'Shakespeare' guy.
posted by yoink at 12:33 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


she explores the possibility that the novelist was murdered with arsenic in her new novel, The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen

Oh, right, she's selling a book. I trust her, as practically the only source cited in the article, to give an entirely unbiased point of view.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:34 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Leave the bones for now, wait for future technology that can determine without invasive means.
posted by stbalbach at 12:35 PM on November 15, 2011


Guys, I've visited her house in rural England. She died of boredom.
posted by jetsetlag at 12:44 PM on November 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


Guys, I've visited her house in rural England. She died of boredom.

It seems an odd thing to posit about someone who wrote a series of enduring masterpieces based solely on the lives of people living in communities exactly like hers.
posted by yoink at 12:55 PM on November 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is silly.
posted by howfar at 12:57 PM on November 15, 2011


Oh, right, she's selling a book. I trust her, as practically the only source cited in the article, to give an entirely unbiased point of view.

Could be worse. She could be shilling her book and destroying valuable artworks.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:01 PM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


A complicated entailment, involving life tenure and the possibility of the family being dispossessed and evicted in the event of a death, untimely or not, are at the center of Pride and Prejudice, and significant in some of her other books, too, as I recall, and I've often thought this must reflect an importance of the issue in her own life.

If it could be demonstrated she was in the way of someone's inheritance of an estate, I'd find the idea she was murdered fairly plausible, actually.

The thought that she was bored gave me a good laugh; no one has ever had more ability 'to see the world in a grain of sand, and eternity in an hour', in my opinion.
posted by jamjam at 1:06 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


No one seems to be claiming she was murdered. But the possibility that she was prescribed medication for her rheumatism that contained arsenic sounds plausible.
posted by Mchelly at 1:13 PM on November 15, 2011


Where's Miss Marple when you need her?
posted by infini at 1:42 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Jane Austen was murdered, she was murdered by the realities of being a single woman living in genteel poverty in 19th century Britain.

Look at her near contemporaries, the Brontes. Patrick Bronte, the patriarch, outlived ALL of his four children who made it to adulthood. All of the Bronte children died of tuberculosis in their twenties and thirties. Charlotte Bronte held out the longest at age 38.
posted by so much modern time at 1:44 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Look for a time-traveling high school English student.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:18 PM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


OMG THIS IS JUST LIKE WHEN CATHERINE MORLAND INVENTS A DARK AND UNUTTERABLE SECRET CONCEALED BY THE TILNEY FAMILY AND HENRY'S LIKE "YOU BE CRAZY MISS MORLAND, THIS IS ENGLAND, PUT THE MRS RADCLIFFE DOWN" AMIRITE?
posted by tigrefacile at 2:32 PM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nobody seriously believes she was murdered. If she was killed by arsenic, it was probably in the medications she was being given. The murder aspect (it can't be ruled out) is just to sell newspapers (and books).
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:45 PM on November 15, 2011


If it says in the article (I can't see the Grauniad from here, it's on our site's net nanny blocklist) whose was supposed the guilty hand?
posted by jfuller at 2:50 PM on November 15, 2011


Her potential arsenic ingestion was probably chronic, given that it was ubiquitous in medicinal preparations and thought to be something of a cure-all. However, this could be the only book that makes Austen interesting.
posted by Renoroc at 3:16 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mark Twain would have been happy to hear of a murder:
To me his prose is unreadable - like Jane Austin's [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.
and
I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.
posted by pracowity at 3:23 PM on November 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Haters to the left, Mr. Clemens.
posted by orrnyereg at 3:44 PM on November 15, 2011


Actually, I think he's with the OGs.
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:49 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's true that I couldn't finish Northanger Abbey, but arsenic seems a little harsh.
posted by knoyers at 3:55 PM on November 15, 2011


Murdered, huh? I guess that's a pretty big form of...

*puts on sunglasses*

...Persuasion.
posted by ZsigE at 4:29 PM on November 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


You know Sherlock Holmes did say that poison is...

*puts on sunglasses*

...a woman's weapon.
posted by ZsigE at 4:32 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Looks like she needed a little more...

*puts on sunglasses*

...Sense and Sensi- wait, that one doesn't work.
posted by ZsigE at 4:32 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


ZsigE, go sit over there in the corner. We'll let you know when you can come back.
posted by Danf at 5:26 PM on November 15, 2011


she explores the possibility that the novelist was murdered with arsenic in her new novel, The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen

Does this have any redeeming factor, or is this just jane austen fanfiction mutual masturbation club?
posted by hal_c_on at 6:06 PM on November 15, 2011


Metafilter: just jane austen fanfiction mutual masturbation club
posted by Renoroc at 6:16 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This explains a previously ambiguous note found among Charlotte Bronte Juvenilia: "I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for those meddling kids!
posted by shothotbot at 6:47 PM on November 15, 2011


Digging into the link and the author further, Ashford's book is published as a novel--fiction. On her website, Ashford explains her interest in speculating imaginatively on Austen's death and why the pertinent cast of characters in Austen's life at the time, combined with a small collection of "clues" inspired her imagination, even while understanding the true plausibility (or implausibility) of her speculation.

I only delved into this because some of this thread seems embroidered with the same criticisms of Austen (mainly male-perspective) that have been trying to pull her work into the undertow for years--that she is boring, that the worlds she writes about are small and meaningless, that continued interest in her amounts to fangirl circle-jerking.

I'm not personally interested in Ashford's novel for itself, and without reading it there are ways in which it might end up being guilty of exactly what I'm bothered by here--that Austen somehow requires embroidery to justify contemporary interest in her work. I don't know. I find that I'm not bothered by Austen's contemporary fan fiction--zombies/erotic Darcy-Elizabeth interludes/and so on--because it demonstrates living interest in stories no one else could tell (and perhaps Ashford is playing in that sandbox).

Something that has always endeared me, deeply and personally, to Austen (besides her books themselves) is that she continues to inspire women to be writers. Contemporary women and girls read her books and think "I want to do that," and are mentored by her work to trust their own voice--whatever that voice may be and whatever story it wants to tell, because just as many literary fiction and poetry types (etc) and romance and sci-fi types (etc) name her as their mental sidekick. I think this speaks to a particular kind of integrity to her voice and to the way she depicted the world she wrote about that all writers aspire to achieve. More, it seems Austen was able to craft into her work the message that no world is without meaning as long as it becomes real for the reader--powerful stuff for emerging writers.

Lindsay Ashford, whatever it is she is doing, is at least responding to this integrity in the best way that she knows how to do.
posted by rumposinc at 9:09 PM on November 15, 2011 [16 favorites]


Surely she died of horror upon suddenly realising that one day people would publish fanfic about a) Darcy and Lizzie having mad sex all over Pemberly and b) whatever that horror I saw in a bookshop about Mr. Darcy being a vampire was. I'd include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in that list, given that the joke only lasted about 10 pages and seems to have led to a proliferation of bad rewrites of 19th century fiction with supernatural beings.

Now I must go an inform some inappropriately attired peasants that their presence on my grounds is causing fainting fits among the swoonier ladies.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:46 PM on November 15, 2011


dammit, rumposinc. this thread was bringing nothing to mind except how much I despised reading Austen in High School (wanting nothing more than to read more Vonnegut after being introduced via Slaughterhouse V), but you had to go and put another perspective on it and ruin my hate-on.
posted by flaterik at 2:57 AM on November 16, 2011


metafilter: ruining your hate-on.
posted by rumposinc at 4:44 AM on November 16, 2011


To me his prose is unreadable - like Jane Austin's

The "He" in question is Edgar Allen Poe, so boo sucks to Twain's ability to pick 'em.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:11 AM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies lost me at the first sentence. If an author can't parse "It is a truth universally acknowledged..." as not only satire but sarcasm, then the author has lost my interest (this goes for Austen reviewers, too - I have yet to see one use that sentence with the scathing depths of sarcasm Austen imbued it with). One of the reasons I love the mini-series is because the actress playing Elizabeth says it with such sarcastic enjoyment, mocking her mother openly even while her mother completely misses that she's being made fun of.

I love Austen because she's a delightfully snarky bitch who spends most of her books making fun of people in such a way that you can still like them afterward, even though you might dislike some of their foibles. There are some fantastically snide bits in Northanger Abbey which still make me cackle with glee, though that book doesn't have a lot of the deeper implications of her other books (like the subversion of the social order implicit in Pride and Prejudice, or the bitchslap toward well-meaning meddlers in Persuasion). It's final point about the hero and heroine having to wait a year to marry and the snipe at whether this is pro- or con- paternalism is simply fantastic, though.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:03 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think that arsenic gets stored in the hair and nails. If people seriously believe this we can always dig her up and do a test.

They did that with Napoleon and found out he had constant arsenic exposure throughout his life, and therefore he wasn't specifically poisoned right before he died.

Jane Austin lived in the same time period, so maybe, as many have said, she was also exposed to arsenic throughout her life.
posted by eye of newt at 9:37 PM on November 16, 2011


I am so mad at Mark Twain right now. I want to taunt him for his ruinous investments in go-nowhere inventions.

Instead I will remember that Salman Rushdie thinks Entourage is hilarious and go to sleep secure in the knowledge that great authors have terrible taste sometimes. Dumb ideas also.

Good job saying yes to everything that wasn't the telephone, Mark Twain.
posted by Adventurer at 4:15 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older Yesterday, the Supreme court granted certiorari to...  |  Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothe... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments