Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen

Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen

3.8 18
by Lindsay Ashford
     
 

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Accident or murder? A thrilling account behind Jane Austen's mysterious and unforeseen death

Jane Austen died of unknown causes at 41, her face "black and white and every wrong colour" (Austen's own words). This book sparked international headlines with the provocative question: Was Jane Austen poisoned? A compelling fictional account of the

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Overview

Accident or murder? A thrilling account behind Jane Austen's mysterious and unforeseen death

Jane Austen died of unknown causes at 41, her face "black and white and every wrong colour" (Austen's own words). This book sparked international headlines with the provocative question: Was Jane Austen poisoned? A compelling fictional account of the circumstances surrounding Jane Austen's mysterious death from award-winning mystery writer Lindsay Ashford, inspired by letters and diaries from the Austen archive. Both a puzzle and an unusual love story, it delves deep into the world Jane inhabited and will fascinate Austen fans and mystery readers alike.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ashford(Strange Blood) uses the ambiguity surrounding the death of Jane Austen at 41 to craft an intriguing mystery. There’s some factual basis for the suggestion that Austen was murdered. A 1949 test on a lock of her hair donated to the Jane Austen museum in Chawton showed “levels of arsenic far exceeding that observed in the body’s natural state,” according to an author’s note. Ashford presents the events leading up to Austen’s death in 1817 through the eyes of Anne Sharp, the family governess, who desires more than a platonic relationship with the woman she adores. Sharp’s insightful observations into the family’s dynamics and secrets places her own position in jeopardy, even as she’s able to detect where Austen has put them to use in Mansfield Park and other novels. This solid historical puzzle will appeal even to readers with only passing familiarity with Austen’s works. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"This solid historical puzzle will appeal even to readers with only passing familiarity with Austen's works." - Publishers Weekly

"No zombies and none of the twee twaddle that characterizes too many Austen pastiches. Rather, this is a lively Regency romance about murder, serial adulteries, and other pastimes of your typical extended family. In this year marking the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, this addition nicely complements P.D. James's Death Comes to Pemberley and will fill the gap until Jo Baker's eagerly awaited Longbourn (P&P seen from below stairs) is released this fall." - Library Journal

"Ashford cleverly weaves historical facts into a whodunit written in Austen's style. Janeites may be enthralled or appalled, but they'll agree that this literate page-turner is thought-provoking." - Kirkus

"I think that readers will be very pleased with The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen and fans of Jane Austen will be superbly delighted." - Royal Reviews

"Sensational and stirring — The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen has definitely piqued my curiosity and aroused my suspicions...Now, more so than ever, I'm dying to know the mysterious cause of Jane Austen's death?!?" - Austenesque Reviews

"If you're an Austen fan, love a good mystery, and are curious about Jane's family, you'll want to pick up The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen." - Drey's Library

"An interesting read!" - My Book Addiction Reviews

"This is a gripping novel that grabs you from the first page and won't let go. " - Debbie's Book Bag

"Read this if you're a fan of Jane Austen—and even if you're not. Historical mystery lovers will enjoy this, too. It's smartly written and leaves you wondering....how did Jane die? " - Bookalicious Babe Book Reviews

"The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen is the best story I have read in a very long time." - Long and Short Reviews

"For a startling version of Jane Austen's world that you've never encountered before, try The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen." - Linda Banche and Her Historical Hilarity

"Jane Austen fans cannot miss this book!" - Charming Chelsey's

Library Journal
Jane Austen is here not in her fictional detective guise but as the eventual decedent; it makes for a pleasant change. Based on a postmortem analysis of a lock of the author's hair, which revealed levels of arsenic 15 times greater than normal, while those around her lived healthy and long lives, the question becomes: Who done her in? The sleuth in this instance is Anne Sharp, based on a real historical figure (and, yes, reader, she lives up to her surname), a onetime nanny in the extensive Austen entourage, who, after her unwarranted dismissal, keeps in touch with and develops a crush on Jane. Mystery author Ashford (The Rubber Woman; The Killer Inside) uses her obvious and easy familiarity with the comings and goings of the extended Austen clan to present a reasonable, compulsively readable case against the supposed murderer, even long after the statute of limitations has expired. VERDICT No zombies and none of the twee twaddle that characterizes too many Austen pastiches. Rather, this is a lively Regency romance about murder, serial adulteries, and other pastimes of your typical extended family. In this year marking the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, this addition nicely complements P.D. James's Death Comes to Pemberley and will fill the gap until Jo Baker's eagerly awaited Longbourn (P&P seen from below stairs) is released this fall.—Bob Lunn, Kansas City, MO
Kirkus Reviews
Did dangerous family secrets lead to the murder of Jane Austen? Reduced circumstances forced Anne Sharp to become a governess to Fanny, the oldest daughter of one of Jane Austen's brothers, Edward Austen and his wife, Elizabeth, of Godmersham. Here she met the visiting Jane, who became her dearest friend and confidante. Indeed, she was in love with Jane, who remained unaware of her feelings. Twenty-six years after Jane's death, Anne decides to write a memoir revealing the secrets that she believes led a family member to poison Jane with arsenic. Was it Henry, Jane's dearest brother? A married but childless man of great charm who often came to Godmersham, Henry delighted in playing with his brother's children. Shockingly, both Jane and Anne came to suspect that Henry had been having a long-standing affair with Elizabeth, some of whose children may be his. When Anne unwisely spoke to Henry, he promptly discharged her, using her poor eyesight as an excuse, and during the years preceding Jane's death, Anne saw her only sporadically. She was fortunate to find work as a companion to a wealthy woman who let her visit Jane, her mother and her sister Cassandra, whose straitened circumstances forced them to move often over the years until the sudden death of Elizabeth, when the wealthy Edward finally provided them with a home at Chawton. Over the years, Anne suspected Henry of having an affair with Mary, another of Jane's sisters-in-law, who boasted little beauty and an uncertain temper. When a strand of Jane's hair tests positive for arsenic, she is ready to set down her account of what may be a string of unproven murders. Ashford (Strange Blood, 2007, etc.) cleverly weaves historical facts into a whodunit written in Austen's style. Janeites may be enthralled or appalled, but they'll agree that this literate page-turner is thought-provoking.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781402282126
Publisher:
Sourcebooks
Publication date:
08/06/2013
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
370,146
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

July 6, 1843

I have sent him her hair. When I took it from its hiding place and held it to my face, I caught the faintest trace of her: a ghost scent of lavender and sun-warmed skin. It carried me back to the horse-drawn hut with its wheels in the sea where I saw her without cap or bonnet for the first time. She shook out her curls and twisted around. My buttons, she said. Will you help me? The hut shuddered with the waves as I fumbled. She would have fallen if I hadn't held her. I breathed her in, my face buried in it-her hair.

To the ancients it was a potent, magical thing. The Bible calls it the source of a man's strength and a woman's allure. How strange that it should have this new power, this ability to bear witness after death. Science tells us it is dead matter, stripped of life long before the body it adorns.

I suppose he has had to destroy it to reveal its secret; he can have no idea what it cost me to part with it. All that remains are the few strands the jeweler took for the ring upon my finger: a tiny braid, wound into the shape of a tree. When I touch the glass that holds it, I remember how it used to spill over the pillow in that great sailboat of a bed. If hair can hold secrets this ring must surely hold mine.

Now that the deed is done I fear what I have unleashed. This is what he wrote to me yesterday:

Thank you for entrusting the letter from the late Miss J. A. to my keeping, along with the lock of her hair bequeathed to you. You are quite correct in your belief that medical science now enables the examination of such as has not perished of a corpse with regard to the possibility of foul play.

Having applied the test recently devised by Mister James Marsh, I have been able to subject the aforementioned sample to analysis at this hospital. The result obtained is both unequivocal and disturbing: the lady, at the time of her demise, had quantities of arsenic in her person more than fifteen times that observed in the body's natural state.

You have told me that the persons with whom she dwelt, namely her sister, her mother, a family friend, and two servants, all survived her by a decade or more. I must conclude, therefore, that the source of the poison was not anything common to the household, such as corruption of the water supply. Nor could any remedy the lady received-if indeed arsenic was administered-account for the great quantity present in her hair. It may be conjectured then that Miss J. A. was intentionally poisoned.

This being the case, I need hardly tell you that bringing the perpetrator of such calumny to justice, after a lapse of some six-and-twenty years, would be next to impossible. If, however, you are willing to explain the exact nature of your suspicions to me, I will gladly offer what assistance I can.

I remain your humble servant,

Doctor Zechariah Sillar

It is a source of some relief to me to know that the disquiet I have felt these many years is not without foundation, though I burn with rage to see it written there as scientific fact. To him her death is nothing more than a curiosity; his interest is piqued and he offers his assistance. I have not even hinted that the guilt lies with someone still living.

Where would I begin to explain it all? Elizabeth, surely, is the first link in the chain. But how would he see the connection unless he acquainted himself with the family and the secrets at its heart? How could he understand my misgivings without knowing her as I knew her? To weigh it up he would have to see it all.

But it was not meant for other eyes. I am well aware of the danger of opening this Pandora's Box. People have called me fanciful. Indeed, I have questioned my own judgment. But the possibility that I might be right makes me more inclined to take this man into my confidence. He has the twin virtues of learning and discretion and knows nothing of the family. If it is to be seen, there is no one I know who is more suitable than him. The question remains, is it the right thing to do?

January 3, 1827

Jane's nephew wrote to me yesterday. He asks me to contribute to a memoir he wishes to compile. I will have to tell him that I cannot-and furnish him with some plausible excuse.

His letter has unsettled me. Quite apart from the scandal a truthful account would create, the way the request was framed infuriates me. I have thrown the thing away now, but the words he used still parrot away inside my head: "Although my aunt's life was completely uneventful, I feel that those who admire her books will be interested in any little details of her tastes, her hobbies, et cetera, that you might care to pass on."

Completely uneventful. How can anybody's life be described as completely uneventful? He wishes, I think, to enfeeble her, to present her to the world as a docile creature whose teeth and claws have been pulled. The respectable Miss Austen; the quiet, pious Miss Austen; the spinster aunt whose only pleasures apart from her writing were needlework and the pianoforte. Meek, ladylike, and bloodless. How she would have hated such an epitaph.

I suppose he believes that I would relish the task of serving her up to the public like a plate of sweetmeats. I hope he lives long enough to understand that one does not have to be young or married to be racked by love and guilt and envy. How affronted he would be if I revealed exactly how I felt about his aunt.

His letter has had quite a different result from that which he intended. I have decided to make my own record of all that passed between us, a memoir that will never be seen by him or any other member of the family. I will write it for myself, to keep her close, and as a way of releasing what eats away at me. When I am dead, Rebecca will find it amongst my papers and she can decide whether to read it or toss it on the fire. My feelings then will no longer matter.

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