What’s the Jane Austen News this week?
Jane’s Death Caused By Arsenic?
The cause of Jane Austen’s mysterious death at the age of 41 has been the subject of much debate over the years. Theories put forward have included cancer, Addison’s disease, and complications from drinking unpasteurised milk. However, new research conducted by researchers at the British Library, undertaken in conjunction with London optometrist Simon Barnard, has brought forward new evidence that Jane may have died as a result of arsenic poisoning.
Simon 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. 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. Arsenic was frequently found in water, medication and even wallpaper in Austen’s time, Dr. Tuppen emphasised. Unintentional arsenic poisoning was, she said, “quite common” and that “arsenic was often put into medication for other types of illness, potentially for rheumatism, which we know Jane Austen suffered from.”
Not everyone is convinced though. Deirdre Le Faye, an independent Austen scholar believes that Austen died of Addison’s disease. She said that while Austen could have ingested arsenic through medication, other elements of the British Library’s biographical analysis seemed less persuasive. One of the main arguments the library puts forward for arsenic poisoning is the claim that “she must have been almost blind by the end of her life”, but Deirdre Le Faye said, Austen was writing letters “perfectly ably” up to about six weeks before her death. Rapid deterioration of her eyesight would have had to be very sudden to fit the library’s analysis.
The mystery goes on!
The BBC’s next period drama is a real-life love story set in post-Regency England. BBC One and HBO have commissioned Shibden Hall, a brand new eight-part drama series created and written by Bafta-winning Sally Wainwright (To Walk Invisible, Last Tango In Halifax, Happy Valley). However, unlike in most period dramas, Shibden Hall’s heroine has no intention of marrying a man.
Set in West Yorkshire in 1832, Shibden Hall is the epic story of the remarkable landowner, Anne Lister. Returning after years of exotic travel and social climbing, Anne determines to transform the fate of her faded ancestral home.
To do this she must re-open her coal mines and marry well. But Anne Lister – who walked like a man, dressed head-to-foot in black, and charmed her way into high society – has no intention of marrying a man. True to her own nature, she plans to marry a woman. And not just any woman: the woman Anne Lister marries must be seriously wealthy.
Every part of Anne’s story is based in historical fact, recorded in the four million words of her diaries that contain the most intimate details of her life, once hidden in a secret code that is now broken.
It will rework the romantic genre epitomised by the smouldering appeal of Poldark and Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, to tell the remarkable tale of the quest by a lesbian landowner to find a wife.
It’s a beautifully rich, complicated, surprising love story. To bring Anne Lister to life on screen is the fulfillment of an ambition I’ve had for 20 years.
The series will start filming in Yorkshire next year.
Sitting With Jane is a public art trail which will be displayed around Basingstoke this summer as part of the celebrations of Jane Austen 200. It is made up of 24 “BookBenches” which will be going on display on June 17th. Each bench sponsor (every bench is funded by one or more sponsors) were spoilt for choice at a special exhibition in January when they selected their favourite design from the many submitted by hopeful artists. The final designs have now been chosen and the artists are motoring on with their benches. But it’s not just the professionals who are getting involved.
Local schools are getting involved too, with 6 primary and 2 secondary schools designing and painting their own smaller versions of the BookBench. These will be displayed during the summer half term in Festival Place as a teaser to the main trail. At the Jane Austen News we’re thrilled to hear that the BookBenches are inspiring new generations to learn about Jane and her work.
Fans of Jane Austen in New York state and Montreal (and the surrounding area) may be interested to learn that from March 23rd- March 25th the State University of New York (SUNY) in Plattsburgh will be hosting a Jane Austen conference – Jane Austen & the Arts: A Bicentenary Conference.
The conference began as the brainchild of Dr. Anna Battigelli, a professor of English at SUNY Plattsburgh, when she was working on an Austen paper for the University of Tulsa. Battigelli’s vision for the conference was to bring different constituencies — general public, academia and students — together and have them learn from one another.
On March 23 there will be presentations and sessions chaired by graduate and advanced-undergraduate students from around the country. For example, SUNY student Stephanie Boutin will be presenting The Art of Propriety: Jane Austen’s Exploration of Moral and Societal Expectations in Pride and Prejudice. Then March 24th and 25th will feature presentations by Austen scholars from around the world. The keynote address, Portraiture as Misrepresentation in the Novels and Early Writings of Jane Austen, will be given by Dr. Peter Sabor, who holds the Canada research chair in 18th-Century Studies at McGill University, where he is also director of the Burney Centre.
The celebration will also include an English Country Dance and Dance Workshop. (Period costumes will be in abundance but not required…)
Be warned though, the registration deadline is March 14th at 11pm. Although no registration is necessary to attend the English Country Dance.
A new journal article, written by Joseph Wiesenfarth from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has just been published in Penn State University Press’s Style journal.
It’s titled Jane Austen Bowls a Googly: The Juvenilia, and discusses the amazing differences between Jane’s early writings which she did as a child, and her far more serious, full-length novels.
Unfortunately the access to it is restricted, however we wanted to mention it because university students or academics may have access to it and wish to read what it has to say. Besides, even though it’s not available for everyone to read, at the Jane Austen News we think it’s nice to know that academic articles are still be written about Jane and her work, and that they are finding new things to say so many years after her death. It just goes to show how in-depth and relevant her novels really are!
This article introduces the reader to Jane Austen’s writings from age eleven to seventeen, all of which are quite unlike anything she wrote in her novels insofar as good manners are their target, not norm. The word “googly” in the article’s title is a term from cricket in which the bowler throws a very tricky pitch. Given what we expect to find in a novel of Austen’s, her writing stories that deal with homosexuality, bigamy, murder, suicide, hanging, and child abandonment in a joking way show her getting as much spin on her pen as the best of bowlers get on their pitches. The stories that deal with these matters are invariably hilarious, various in form, and laugh-out-loud in their reading. Indeed, in G. K. Chesterton’s words, they are “the gigantic inspiration of laughter.” This article is an introduction to them.
Positioned on Bath’s Queen Square (which is a 30 second walk from the Jane Austen Centre) is Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. They put on various events throughout the year on all kinds of subjects and invite experts, speakers, authors – all manor of guests to contribute to their programme each year. We mention this as an event which caught our eye is Jane Austen: Writing to the End; an upcoming talk from Maggie Lane, an Austen expert who has written such books as Jane Austen’s England and Growing Older with Jane Austen, taking place on Sunday April 2nd at 3pm. She will be speaking with actress Angela Barlow (who frequently appears at Jane Austen events, either in her own presentations or supporting Maggie Lane in hers), about the significance of Jane in this, the bicentenary year of her death.
So, if you happen to be in Bath on April 2nd, you might like to combine a visit to the Jane Austen Centre with this event.
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