books · libraries

And Then They Murdered Jane Austen


When I say that they murdered Jane Austen, I’m not speaking metaphorically. Some person in the distant past didn’t simply eviscerate her work. No, I mean that a few scholars believe that someone poisoned Jane Austen. With arsenic.

According to research from the British Library, Jane Austen’s death at the age of 41, her early cataracts, and her strange facial pigmentation are all consistent with the effects of arsenic poisoning.

Some scholars say this sounds like murder. Others remind us that arsenic was often used in medicine; even Austen’s death resulted from the chemical, there may not have been anything nefarious about it. And still other scholars grumble that these claims are nothing more than academic click bait.

Whatever the truth is, the subject is a fascinating one. I suggest you read all of the British Library’s blog post on the subject before coming to your own conclusions. We always mourn when writers die young. In this case, it is interesting that we know why it might have happened.


34 thoughts on “And Then They Murdered Jane Austen

  1. I believe there is speculation that Napoleon died due to the presence of Arsnic in the wallpaper of the chamber in which he slept. If one looks around old properties owned by the National Trust and similar organisations, one learns that the make-up applied by many ladies in 19th-century Britain contained led. There was no intention to poison anyone, it was simply that, at that time the harmful effects of led where not understood. Kevin

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  2. They used arsenic for all sorts of applications, including rat and mouse poison and were far less fussy about handling some fairly lethal chemicals without any form of protection so it is far more likely that she was poisoned accidentally than this rather shy, if brilliant, woman who came from a close-knit, loving family was intentionally murdered… But I do agree with you – it does throw up some fascinating questions:).

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      1. Sadly, I think a lot of people died in similar circumstances – which is why it made poisoners so lethally effective. It was very difficult to determine whether it was deliberate or not…

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  3. I think it’s unlikely to be murder but as a descendant on the Leigh side, and with your description of the facial pigmentation, I’m now beginning to wonder if she had a form of what I have which is an autoimmune condition called Limited Cutaneous Systemic Sclerosis. Mind you, I haven’t read the British Library post yet but if those marks are red and similar to broken red veins, there’s a distinct possibility that arsenic has nothing to do with it! Off to the British Library!

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  4. Have read the British Library post. Whilst all these theories are very interesting, I think I’ll just carry on investigating and enjoying Miss Austen’s writing.

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