The death of Jane Austen has long been shrouded in mystery. The now-beloved author succumbed in 1817, at the relatively young age of 41, to an unidentified disease. Over the years, scholars have speculated that she died of cancer or tuberculosis. Others have thought that she suffered from Addison's disease (which tormented JFK as well). But now, new research from the British Library suggests that the famed author died of arsenic poisoning.
The theory stems from the examination of three pairs of eyeglasses believed to have been owned by Austen. The library had these glasses, which were found in a desk belonging to Austen, tested for the first time, and the results suggest that her vision severely deteriorated before her death, possibly due to cataracts. Yesterday, the library shared a blog post further explaining this hypothesis.
If Austen did develop cataracts, said London-based optometrist Professor Simon Barnard, the cause would be accidental poisoning from a heavy metal such as arsenic. "Arsenic poisoning is now known to cause cataracts. Despite its toxicity, arsenic was commonly found in medicines in 19th-century England, as well as in some water supplies."
Crime writer Lindsay Ashford suggested the possibility of arsenic poisoning back in 2011. She pointed to a description of the "unusual facial pigmentation [Austen] suffered at the end of her life," a common trait of victims of arsenic poisoning.
However, as the New York Times explained, not all scholars are buying this theory. Austen expert Janine Barchas referred to this new speculation as a "quantum leap," and the library's announcement as "a smidgen reckless."
If you'd like to draw your own conclusions, the glasses are currently on display at the British Library.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.