Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen

Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen

by Lindsay Ashford


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"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

Pride and Prejudice and... Murder?

Twenty-six years have passed since the death of Jane Austen. Armed with a lock of Austen's hair as perhaps her best clue, Anne Sharp, former governess to the Austen family and Jane's close friend, has decided at last to tell her story—a story of family intrigues, shocking secrets, forbidden loves, and maybe even murder...

Perfect for fans of Death Comes to Pemberley, upon its publication in the UK, Lindsay Ashford's fictional interpretation of the few facts surrounding Jane Austen's mysterious death sparked an international debate and uproar. None of the medical theories offer a satisfactory explanation of Jane Austen's early demise at the age of forty-one. Could it be that what everyone has assumed was a death by natural causes was actually more sinister? Lindsay Ashford's vivid novel delves deep into Austen's world and puts forth a shocking suggestion—was someone out to silence her?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402282126
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 08/06/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 584,923
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Lindsay Ashford is an award-winning British mystery novelist and journalist. Her writing has been compared to that of Vivien Armstrong, Linda Fairstein and Frances Fyfield. Raised in Wolverhampton, Ashford became the first woman to graduate from Queens' College, Cambridge in its 550 year history. She gained a degree in Criminology and in 1996, took a crime writing course run by the Arvon Foundation. Ashford divides her time between a home on the Welsh coast near Aberystwyth, Wales and the village of Chawton (Jane Austen's home) in Hampshire.

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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The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
sneps More than 1 year ago
Must read for any Jane Austen Fan!! My most favorite author of all time is Jane Austen. I chose this book as my first read for January 2014, because of my love for anything Austen, the cover is stunning, the title grabbed my attention, and the first few pages grabbed my attention!! Lindsay Ashford is a phenomenal writer, and the storyline is weaved with fiction and fact, that it’s quite difficult to separate the two. Jane Austen befriends a governess, Anne, and through the years, Anne watches Jane’s writing evolve. The questions and conclusions that Anne comes to regarding the living arrangements, relationships between Jane and her siblings, and raises interesting questions regarding the death of Jane Austen. If you love a great mystery, love Jane Austen, or just want a great read-then pick up this book! It’s by far one of the best books I’ve read about Jane Austen’s life!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WHAT WERE FACTS? WHAT WAS FACTUALLY IMPLIED FROM JANE, MISS SHARP'S AND OTHERS LETTERS? WHAT PART WAS PURE FICTION? This was the problem I had. I wanted to know exactly what the facts were, what was implied and what was pure fiction. I had hoped for footnotes or something to give me a real clue but it appears the author wants you to do the research yourself to figure fact from fiction. Did Miss Anne Sharp really have an unnatural or improper affection for Jane Austen? If letters of Anne Sharp indicated this, then okay but if not, the author has gone too far. Did Henry Austen father children with married sisters-in-law and perhaps others? The book could have been 5 stars if we knew what was fact, what was reasonably implied and what parts are pure fiction. The basis of the story is terrific because it really does make you wonder who really killed Jane Austen or what could honestly explain her death.
MOMPGA More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
StitcherAA More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the mystery and realize it is fiction but it sure held your attention. It was a mix of past and present and you won't want to wait to see what happens.
micushla More than 1 year ago
I chose this book because I am a great lover of Jane Austen novels and that era in England. No one I knew had even heard of the book. I found it one of those written in the fashion of J. Austen but it was a about her mysterious death. This I too was not aware. Could not put it down. The reader gets to meet the various members and associates of the Austen family. Jane is now not an author but a character in a book which introduces her world and how she drew her many characters personalities. The hard life of women of that time makes one realize how far we have come. No freedom or allowed to have any ideas of their own, totally at the mercy of the men in their life. At the end one finds themselves very grateful of being in the 21st century.
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
Too Much. While the premise here is good--was Jane Austen actually murdered--and the relationship between Austen and the narrator is intriguing, overall I couldn't stop thinking the author was trying too hard to titillate or be controversial. There is something simply too over the top about it. A disappointment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great rea. Done in one day.
NicholasEnnos More than 1 year ago
Jane Austen's cousin, and sister in law, Eliza de Feuilide, was the author of the novels and not Jane, as I prove in my book "Jane Austen - a New Revelation". In relation to Lindsay Ashford's Mysterious Death of Miss Austen, the medical evidence tends to show that Jane Austen was killed by arsenic poisoning which must have been administered by members of her family. Her blotchy skin was consistent with arsenic poisoning and a lock of her hair was tested by its owners in the last century and found to contain arsenic. This was consistent with the Austen family cover up of Eliza's authorship of the novels. A letter of Jane Austen's dated 29 January 1813 proves that all of the novels had been written by this date, as it gives the prices to be charged for each and confirms that they had been completed. Eliza died in April 1813. The letter of January 1813 shows that there were three completed novels that remained to be published: Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. In addition, in 1815 or 1816 Henry Austen bought back the copyright of Northanger Abbey from the publishers. Jane Austen travelled to London and together with Henry Austen organised the publication of these last four novels from 1813 to 1817. By 1817 it was no longer necessary for Jane Austen to be kept alive and her existence might prove an embarrassment for people investigating the authorship of the novels. The person who probably administered the arsenic would have been Cassandra Austen, her sister, who lived with her. Cassandra falsified a chronology of when each of the novels was written, showing that the last few were written after Eliza's death. As I have mentioned, Jane Austen's letter of 29 January 1813 shows that this chronology was false and therefore Cassandra was intimately involved in the cover up of Eliza's authorship. Cassandra also destroyed 90 per cent of Jane Austen's letters to expunge any evidence of Eliza's authorship. However, she was not clever enough to destroy the letter of 29 January 1813 which is the "smoking gun" which proves Eliza's authorship of the novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Really brings Jane Austin to life. Very interesting read.
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emilyfan76 More than 1 year ago
I am a huge Jane Austen fan and I really wanted to like this book, but I couldn't.  I couldn't even get through half of it.  The main character is unlikable and in her mind eveybidy is cheating on their spouses.  I would not recommend this book at all.
arbjamesAJ More than 1 year ago
Did beloved author Jane Austen die of natural causes, or was her death brought about by more sinister means? Anne Sharpe, governess to Jane's niece, Fanny, suspects foul play. Anne and Jane had struck up a friendship, and together they discovered shocking Austen family secrets. When various members of the Austen family begin dying, no one connects the tragedies until Jane dies after having experienced unusual skin discoloration. Anne puts two and two together and suspects that Jane, as well as other members of the family, have all be poisoned. However, she has nothing but her suspicions and a potential clue left in Jane's last poem. Twenty years after Jane's death, Anne has a lock of Jane's hair analyzed and learns that it contains a high level of arsenic, confirming her suspicions. Who did it, why, and what can Anne do about it? I am not a Jane Austen scholar, so I can't speak with any authority about the historical accuracy of the novel. I am certain that those who are Austen scholars might find plenty to object to in terms of the characterizations in the novel if they are not historically accurate. For example, Henry Austen is accused of much wrong-doing in the novel. How much he earned this characterization in reality I don't know. With that being said, I enjoyed the novel. There was just enough suspense to keep me hooked. It was interesting to get to "see" Jane Austen in a different light, not as author, but as character. I'm not so sure how realistic Anne Sharpe's character is. How many governesses in her situation would have sacrificed their jobs over qualms about the moral fiber of her employers? I have to say, though, the end was a bit disappointing. I found myself thinking, "That's it? After twenty years of obsessing over Jane's death, that's it?" Of course, maybe that's the point. After it all, after everything that Anne had uncovered, in the end she was powerless to bring the suspected murderer to justice.
IvyD More than 1 year ago
3.75 stars THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN begins twenty-six years after her death.  Anne Sharp, Jane’s friend and former governess to her niece Fanny, begins writing a memoir regarding her tenure in the Austen’s employ and her meeting and friendship with Jane.  Anne, with hindsight, is endeavoring to discover the who and the why behind Jane’s death.  A death Anne no longer believes was natural but is indeed murder. In THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN we meet and see the Austen’s through the eyes of Anne Sharp.  Ms. Sharp was governess to Fanny, Edward and Elizabeth Austen’s eldest daughter.  Anne lived with the family at Godmersham and the close proximity gives her “account” an intimate feel.  I confess my curiosity has definitely been piqued.  I’m most interested to discover exactly what is factual and what is extrapolation, especially regarding Henry and his sisters-in-law.  Once Miss Sharp left the Austen’s employ she stayed in touch with Anne and others via letters and occasional visits even after Jane’s death.   This brings us to the mystery portion which is revealed with memories.  Miss. Sharp’s happenstance reading, years later, of an article in the paper makes her question Jane’s death as natural.  That foul play could be a definite possibility is confirmed with a new scientific test Miss Sharp has done on the lock of Jane’s hair sent to her by Jane’s sister, Cassandra.  Miss Sharp begins a memoir, writing down her memories of events and discreetly questioning others to get theirs.  Using these memories she “solves” the who and why mystery of Jane’s death.  When I read a while back that Ms. Austen’s death might not have been due to natural circumstances I was surprised.  Some time later I saw THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN and there was no way I could not read it.  I don’t claim to be a Janeite or an historical scholar.  I’m just someone who has enjoyed Ms. Austen’s books and some of the pastiches though nothing to do with zombies or sea monsters, I simply can’t go there.   The “insider’s look” at the Austen family was revealing while some mystery was still retained.  They appear to be as disparate and dysfunctionally functional as any family then or now.  There was an aspect that, if historically accurate, felt belabored to me to the point that it detracted from the story.  A mention or two would have been sufficient.  If it wasn’t historically accurate I have to wonder at its inclusion and what point it served.  Hindsight examination of the mystery allows us to play detective along side Miss Sharp.  Will you reach the same conclusion she does or see the evidence differently?  I admit to being surprised at the way some of the characters lives played out, especially as I had no real prior knowledge of them.  I was especially disappointed in Fanny and most surprised about Anna and Henry. With the one exception I very much enjoyed THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN.  If you’re a fan of the Regency era or Jane Austen you should at least give the book a go.  You might find yourself pleasantly surprised. Reviewed by IvyD for Manic Readers
MyBookAddictionandMore More than 1 year ago
THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JANE AUSTEN is an interesting Historical Fiction set in 1843 England. What an interesting tale of the death of Jane Austen. Based partly on historical facts, partly on fiction and the author's own imagination. Filled with forbidden love, possible murder, secrets, family intrigue and of course the death of the beloved Jane Austen. Told in first person, some through letters,or a journal Jane left to her former governess and friend, Anne Sharp,but mostly told from Anne's recollection. The characters are engaging. The storyline is interesting as well as intriguing. What really happened to Jane, was she murdered, or did she actually just suffer a stroke and fell into unconsciousness for which she never recovered from and died? This story examines a few things,most interesting things, of secrets, theories,facts,for you see she was only forty-one at the time of her death. If you enjoy Jane Austen stories,mystery, suspense, than you will enjoy this title. Fast paced. Was Jane Austen murdered or did she die of natural causes and who wished her death? Family,friend,or foe! These are a few of the questions,which has caused much debate internationally. A very controversy debate,I might add! While, I feel it does make Jane's family a bit sinister,it does not take away from the possibilities of what actual happened to Jane Austen. You can draw your own conclusions to "The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen" by reading the story for yourself. An interesting read! Received for an honest review from the publisher. RATING: 4 HEAT RATING: MILD REVIEWED BY: AprilR, Review courtesy of My Book Addiction and More
MarieHahn13 More than 1 year ago
Impossible to Put Down! As a huge fan of Jane Austen, I’ll read anything that even mentions her. So when I read the synopsis for this book, it didn’t just catch my attention, it demanded it. I was familiar with the controversy surrounding her untimely death – a majority of the speculation leaning towards natural causes, but with some questioning whether or not something more sinister was the cause. But because her life was so intriguing and her literary works so brilliantly written, the end of her life had never been more of a passing afterthought for me until I picked up this book. Researched with great detail, Ms. Ashford took what little known facts are available of Miss Austen’s life and family and wove them in to a fictional story so capturing that it is impossible to put it down. Told from the point of view of Anne, the governess to Jane’s niece Fanny, the mystery begins from page one with a letter and lock of Jane’s hair being sent to a lab for testing. Stated in the letter is Anne’s belief that Jane did not die of natural causes, but had indeed been the victim of a murderous crime at the hand of someone close to her – quite possibly a member of her own family. It is from this point that the author beautifully blends the facts of Jane’s last years with a story full of love, lust, jealousy, betrayal and murder. At the heart of the story, is Jane’s family. Each character that the author introduces is uniquely enjoyable. Even with their flaws, you easily fall in love with the Austen family. The relationships that Jane has with each one of them makes you question the thought that any of them could possibly have caused her harm. But when the story unfolds with secret love affairs and lies that could destroy lives, your love for them is set aside and it becomes a guessing game as to who has the biggest motive. The sometimes strangely intimate relationship between Anne and Jane is the only part of the story that I really didn’t care for. I know from reading about Jane that there was a relationship between the two of them and that they were good friends. I also know that the author had to spin their situation a little bit to make Anne’s push for the truth far more believable. But to make it seem romantic in nature bothered me a bit. Not because I see anything wrong with it, but there is nothing that historically suggests her sexuality to be of the female persuasion. This is more of a personal preference than an actual complaint of the novel itself. Overall, this book is one that I would recommend to anyone who is a lover of mystery or Jane Austen. It provides the reader with a delightful page turner and a little insight into the life of someone that most would consider a literary icon.