Title: The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen
Author: Lindsay Ashford
On the Shelves: Fiction> Crime/Mystery/ Historical Fiction
“When Jane Austen dies at the age of just 41, Anne, governess to her brother, Edward Austen, is devastated and begins to suspect that someone might have wanted her out of the way. Now, 20 years on, she hopes that medical science might have progressed sufficiently to assess the one piece of evidence she has – a tainted lock of Jane’s hair. Natural causes or murder? Even 20 years down the line, Anne is determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of the acclaimed Miss Austen.” (Goodreads 2014)
My friend bought me this book, along with Longbourn (click for review), for my birthday- and I decided to read both during Austen August. She highly recommended this book and I went into it pretty much blind. I have to say, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. The idea is that in the 1950s, a lock of Jane Austen’s hair which was sold at Auction was tested to try and prove her cause of death. They found a large amount of arsenic- more than a body would have in it naturally- leading to the theory that Jane Austen could have been poisoned. This was confirmed to the author by the head of the Austen society, after Ashford had studied Jane Austen’s last letters and found an odd sentence, where Austen wrote that her face had changed different colours and was all black and white- apparently symptoms of arsenic poisoning.
While I wasn’t expecting any sort of accurate historical account, and knew it was fiction built on a real life speculation- I was at least expecting it to be more about the “Mysterious Death of Miss Austen”, given the title. Instead, we are introduced to the idea in the first chapter, and we spend the next 280 odd pages watching the Governness Anne Sharp, recount her time living with the Austens and how she basically fell in love with Jane Austen (I kid you not, because female friendships and no boyfriends absolutely must mean lesbianism, apparently.), and we only really get to the whole “investigating the weird death” aspect in the last three chapters. I actually text my friend claiming that I felt the title didn’t suit the book at all. This really did let me down in that aspect.
I mean don’t get me wrong, the backstory is important. You see tension between the families in light of multiple possible scandals which could easily lead up to be motives towards someone poisoning Jane Austen, but I felt the author took far too much time building this up.
Austen August Page Count for this book: 320