The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen

Lindsay Ashford. Sourcebooks, $14.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-4022-8212-6
Ashford (Strange Blood) uses the ambiguity surrounding the death of Jane Austen at 41 to craft an intriguing mystery. There’s some factual basis for the suggestion that Austen was murdered. A 1949 test on a lock of her hair donated to the Jane Austen museum in Chawton showed “levels of arsenic far exceeding that observed in the body’s natural state,” according to an author’s note. Ashford presents the events leading up to Austen’s death in 1817 through the eyes of Anne Sharp, the family governess, who desires more than a platonic relationship with the woman she adores. Sharp’s insightful observations into the family’s dynamics and secrets places her own position in jeopardy, even as she’s able to detect where Austen has put them to use in Mansfield Park and other novels. This solid historical puzzle will appeal even to readers with only passing familiarity with Austen’s works. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/03/2013
Release date: 08/01/2013
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