The cause of death of Jane Austen, who authored a string of novels that have been made into popular feature films and television productions, has long been a source of mystery.
“Was it a hormonal disorder? Cancer? Complications from drinking unpasteurized milk?” The New York Times asks. “New research by the British Library suggests a more dramatic possibility: arsenic poisoning.”
The English novelist, who penned “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Mansfield Park” and other classics, died at age 41 in Winchester, Hampshire, England.
“Researchers at the library, working with the London optometrist Simon Barnard, recently examined three pairs of glasses believed to have belonged to Austen, and said that they show evidence that her vision severely deteriorated in her final years,” The Times reports. “That kind of deterioration further suggests cataracts, and cataracts may indicate arsenic poisoning, Sandra Tuppen, a curator of archives and manuscripts at the library, wrote in a blog post on the library’s website on Thursday.”
The post suggests “accidental poisoning from a heavy metal such as arsenic” as a likely cause.
“The optometrical revelation adds a wonky note of drama to the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death in 1817, weeks after she had traveled to Winchester seeking help for an illness,” The Times notes. “The glasses, which cannot be said definitively to have belonged to Austen, were bequeathed to the library several years ago by her relatives. They had been kept in a desk belonging to Austen.”