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!
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.
Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 60
Maggie Lane is the author of Jane Austen’s World and Understanding Austen. She has lectured on aspects of Jane Austen’s life and novels to the Jane Austen Societies of the UK, Canada, the U.S., and Australia, is the editor of the Jane Austen Society newsletter, and is consultant editor to the global Regency World magazine. Already the author of a dizzying number of fascinating books about Jane Austen’s life and environment, in Growing Older with Jane Austen, she offers this new look at a subject that permeates all of Austen’s novels, and yet, has remained, until now, relatively untouched by scholars. There is no doubt that Jane Austen is enduringly popular with both a general readership and academics. But amid the wealth of approaches to her life and work, no one has made a full-length study of the concept of aging in her novels, and this book sets out to fill that gap. With chapters on the loss of youth and beauty, old wives, old maids, merry widows, and dowager despots, the theme allows for a lively exploration of many of Austen’s most memorable characters. There are also chapters on hypochondria and illness, age and poverty, and death and wills. The book draws on the six novels, major literary fragments, Austen’s own letters, and the reminiscences of family members and contemporaries. Real-life examples are used to underline the fidelity of Austen’s fictional representation. Austen’s wry approach to the perils and consolations of growing older is bound to strike chords with many. Fellow (more…)
Review by Sarah Emsley: Is it easier or harder to write if you’re also responsible for feeding and looking after your family? “Composition seems to me impossible, with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb,” Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in September 1816, after a period in which she managed the household at Chawton Cottage in Cassandra’s absence. Fortunately for Jane – and for us, as readers of her fiction – most of the time it was Cassandra who filled this role, freeing Jane to write. In her writing, she doesn’t mention food very often, yet Maggie Lane’s book Jane Austen and Food shows her references to it are significant because “she uses it to define character and illustrate moral worth.” Jane Austen and Food was first published in 1995 by The Hambledon Press, and it’s newly available as an inexpensive e-book from Endeavour Press. It isn’t a cookbook, but a discussion of food in Austen’s letters and fiction. I’ve always loved that line from her letters about composition, and reading Jane Austen and Food helped me understand it better. I learned that “mutton” isn’t always just mutton, and that “rhubarb” isn’t what I think of as rhubarb. Mutton, says Lane, “seems to have become the generic word for meat – or for dinner itself.” She cites the example from Mansfield Park of Dr. Grant inviting Edmund Bertram “‘to eat his mutton with him the next day,’ without supposing, for a moment, that ‘the (more…)
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 (more…)
Jane Austen’s World By Maggie Lane Maggie Lane has done a wonderful job in this Austen collection. It is well set out, beautifully illustrated and a perfect introduction to Austen- especially for fans who have discovered her through the recent popularity of her books turned film and television series. It is a hardcover coffee table sized book- not something you take to bed with you- quite slim but packed full of good material. The book is divided into five chapters which cover everything from Jane Austen the person, to daily life in Regency England and the film adaptations. Each chapter is subdivided into smaller sections which are really just double page spreads on a particular subject. Don’t expect an in depth analysis of any particular subject but do expect a very competent summary. Lane includes a chronology of Austen’s life which is useful and easy to read. The only real objection I have is that many of the pictures used in here are not titled and it is difficult to find out where they are from- the illustrations index in the back is quite small and cluttered. For those of you who are thinking of buying this book second hand, watch out that you don’t confuse this book with Lane’s earlier work on Austen’s life. That is a smaller book and is more of a biography tracing her life and travels. In short- a really enjoyable book. Hardcover – 144 pages (August 1997) List Price: $20.00 Adams Media Corporation; ISBN: (more…)