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Jane Austen News – Issue 60

The Jane Austen News is arsenic poisoning!

What’s the Jane Austen News this week?   

Jane’s Death Caused By Arsenic?   
The Jane Austen News is arsenic poisoning!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!


Mr Darcy Nowhere In Sight In New BBC Drama  

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.

Sally Wainwright

Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 60

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The Jane Austen Cookbooks

Jane Austen and Food
by Maggie Lane

What was the significance of the pyramid of fruit which confronted Elizabeth Bennet at Pemberley? Or of the cold beef eaten by Willoughby on his journey of repentance to see Marianne? Why is it so appropriate that the scene of Emma’s disgrace should be a picnic, and how do the different styles of housekeeping in Mansfield Park engage with the social issues of the day?

While Jane Austen does not luxuriate in cataloguing meals in the way of Victorian novelists, food in fact plays a vital part in her novels. Her plots, being domestic, are deeply imbued with the rituals of giving and sharing meals. The attitudes of her characters to eating, to housekeeping and to hospitality are important indicators of their moral worth. In a practice both economical and poetic, Jane Austen sometimes uses specific foodstuffs to symbolise certain qualities at heightened moments in the text. This culminates in the artistic triumph of Emma, in which repeated references to food not only contribute to the solidity of her imagined world, but provide an extended metaphor for the interdependence of a community.

In this original, lively and well-researched book, Maggie Lane not only offers a fresh perspective on the novels, but illuminates a fascinating period of food history, as England stood on the brink of urbanisation, middle-class luxury, and change in the role of women. Ranging over topics from greed and gender to mealtimes and manners, and drawing on the novels, letters and Austen family papers, she also discusses Jane Austen’s own ambivalent attitude to the provision and enjoyment of food.
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Hambledon Pr; (April 1995)
ISBN: 1852851244
Price: £14.95

The Jane Austen Cookbook
Compiled by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye

Jane Austen wrote her novels in the midst of a large and sociable family. Brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, friends and acquaintances were always coming and going, which offered numerous occasions for convivial eating and drinking. One of Jane’s dearest friends, Martha Lloyd, lived with the family for many years and recorded in her “Household Book” over 100 recipes enjoyed by the Austens. A selection of this family fare, now thoroughly tested and modernized for today’s cooks, is recreated here, together with some of the more sophisticated dishes which Jane and her characters would have enjoyed at balls, picnics, and supper parties. A fascinating introduction describes Jane’s own interest in food, drawing upon both the novels and her letters, and explains the social conventions of shopping, eating, and entertaining in late Georgian and Regency England. The book is illustrated throughout with delightful contemporary line drawings, prints, and watercolours.

Authentic recipes, modernized for today’s cooks, include:

  • Buttered Prawns
  • Wine-Roasted Gammon and Pigeon Pie
  • Broil’d Eggs
  • White Soup and Salmagundy
  • Pyramid Creams
  • Martha’s Almond Cheesecakes

Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart; (May 2002)
ISBN: 0771014171
Price: $19.95

Margaretta Acworth’s Georgian Cookery Book
by Alice Prochaska, Frank Prochaska

The trouble with the old recipes or ‘receipts’ as they were called in the eighteenth century, is that they leave a great deal ot the imagination. They had no temperatures, very few instructions- most cookery information was handed down mother to daughter, and of course their ovens had no thermostats anyway. When Alice and Frank Prochaska dug up the old Receipt book belonging to Margaretta Ackworth, they decided to remedy this and spent the next months experimenting with the recipes, the ingredients and generally researching the family.

The result is this marvellous book. At once a cookbook with authentic Georgian period recipes with modern translations – and also a short history on the the cooking of the time generally, and Margaretta’s family specifically. The book tells us alot about culture in Georgian England of the eighteenth century and makes a marvellous read.

Many of the recipes just seem plain strange, they include ingredients rarely used now like carraway, rose-water, quinces and hare – well doesn’t everthing now have hershey’s chocolate or steak? Meat is often collared, scotched, potted, ragouted or colloped. I haven’t had the courage to try any of the meat dishes as yet .

The layout is really nice. The Prochaska’s use the original Ackworth recipe to precede their modern ‘translation’ of it, so you get the best of both worlds, the old and the new. There are only two colour photo’s in this book, reproductions of the portraits of Margaretta and her husband. The rest of the book is printed on a heavy cream paper in black type which feels very satisfying to read.

Hardcover – 160 pages (28 September, 1987)
Pavilion Bks.; ISBN: 1851451242
Available Used from $25.00

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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