Tags: jane austen | arsenic | poisoning | death

Jane Austen: Arsenic May Have Contributed to Novelist's Death

Image: Jane Austen: Arsenic May Have Contributed to Novelist's Death
A reader waits as part-time actor Ashley Green (not seen) reads chapter 10 of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice at the Jane Austen Centre on Jan. 28, 2013, in Bath, England. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 13 Mar 2017 10:22 AM

Jane Austen may have been poisoned by arsenic, according to historians who have been trying to unravel the mysterious death of the novelist, who died at age 41 in 1817.

The author of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility” complained in letters about skin discoloration, a symptom of accumulation of arsenic in the body, as well as facial aches, fever and illness involving bile, The Washington Post reported.

However, the poisoning could have been accidental because arsenic was found in many materials during the Victorian age, including medicine, wallpaper, and clothing such as green dresses. Arsenic may have also been found in a tainted water supply.

“I think it’s highly likely she was given a medicine containing arsenic,” crime writer Lyndsay Ashford revealed in The Guardian in 2011 as one of the first people to suggest the arsenic theory. “When you look at her list of symptoms and compare them to the list of arsenic symptoms, there is an amazing correlation.”

In the past, historians have considered Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Addison’s disease, and stomach cancer as possible causes for the famed author’s death.

The latest theory comes from researchers at The British Library, who propose that Austen, who also complained of poor vision, may have developed cataracts, based on examination of various prescription eyeglasses that reportedly belonged to her. Arsenic, whether from medicine or other substances at the time, may lead to cataracts in younger people. The eye disease usually occurs after age 60.

The arsenic hypothesis is “100 percent pure speculation,” said Dr. Mark Blecher, a surgeon and co-director of cataract and primary eye care at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, according to Live Science.

“In some areas of the world, where there is arsenic in the drinking water, there is higher incidence of cataracts,” he told Live Science. But he pointed out that arsenic as a cause is low on the list. Cataracts in younger people may develop because of trauma to the eye, diabetes, or certain genetic disorders.

Even The British Library researchers admit Austen’s custom-made prescriptions may have just been picked “off the shelf” and had nothing to do with the development of cataracts and arsenic poisoning.

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Jane Austen may have been poisoned by arsenic, according to historians who have been trying to unravel the mysterious death of the novelist, who died at age 41 in 1817.
jane austen, arsenic, poisoning, death
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2017-22-13
Monday, 13 Mar 2017 10:22 AM
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