Two new theories about the life and death of beloved author Jane Austen are in debate: First, that she was potentially the victim of arsenic poisoning; and second, that she would have been all over Twitter and Facebook, had she been alive today.
Austen’s early death at the age of 41 has always been a cause for speculation, but crime writer Lindsay Ashford, after reviewing volumes of Austen’s letters, believes that the symptoms the author describes can be attributed to arsenic poisoning. Austen wrote 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.” Ashford, having researched arsenic poisoning for her novels, recognized the symptoms: skin pigmentation of brown, black and white. After she learned that a lock of Austen’s hair on display in a museum tested positive for arsenic, Ashford now believes that the author was given a medicine containing arsenic.
Ashford’s book, “The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen,” implies that foul play was at hand, but professor Janet Todd, editor for the Cambridge edition of Jane Austen says that would have been unlikely. Ashford is interested in disinterring Austen’s bones for forensic analysis, but accepts that it will not happen: “I can quite understand that people would be outraged by the idea,” she said.
Next, in Jane Austen speculation: The notion that Austen would have been a prolific blogger and tweeter, had she been alive today.
“She would definitely be on Twitter, out there having fun. Blogging, connecting with people. Facebook,” said Lauren Ann Nattress, in a Reuters phone interview about her anthology of Austen-inspired stories, “Jane Austen Made Me Do It.” “She loved understanding how people ticked, and you see that in her characterizations and her plots. So I think that the whole social networking thing would fascinate her too, because you learn more about people.”
Austen can thank social media for the interest in fantasy mash-ups of her books, such as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” and “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.”
Nattress also believes that Austen could have been a modern-day journalist, because “she loved the cutting edge of society. She loved talking about people, about human dynamics, about personal relations.”
Carol J. Adams, in her Outlook piece debunking five myths about Austen, agreed: “For some people, the novels seem to offer a world less hectic, less demanding, less confusing than ours. But, if you care to notice, you can find in them references to the crisis of poverty and downward mobility... unwanted pregnancies, and men who practice a double standard in relationships — references that sound ripped from the headlines of today.”
Historians: Who wants to guess what Austen’s Klout score would have been?
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