Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (Lindsay Ashford)

What could Jane Austen have accomplished if she lived past her way-too-young death at 41? In her short life, she became one of the most widely read authors in all of English literature and wrote some of the most beloved books of all time.  In British crime writer Lindsay Ashford's novel of historical fiction, she has come up with a new theory on why Austen died so young and backs it up with some compelling evidence in her author's note.  Was Austen murdered by way of arsenic poisoning?

Anne Sharp is the teacher of Edward Austen's (brother of Jane) daughter, Fanny.  Edward's wife, Elizabeth, treats her as the hired help and is not too happy when Jane and Anne become friends.  Anne begins to suspect that Henry, another Austen brother, is having an affair with Elizabeth and it does not take long for her to discover that Henry is leading a double life. Many of the Austen siblings, in-laws, and children make an appearance in this novel, and it can be difficult to keep them, their familial relationships, and secrets straight. When these secrets are threatened to be revealed, things become dangerous, and it is through this
that the theory of Jane Austen's death becomes magnified through Ashford's lens.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  Ashford obviously did her research thoroughly, and at times, I truly couldn't stop reading.  However, I felt like Ashford was spoon feeding her readers and didn't allow us to make enough interpretations on our own.  The ending can be seen coming from a mile away.  But Austen fans will revel in the history and seeing their heroine in such a bright light.