Arsenic was used to treat various ailments in Austen's day, Ashford pointed out in an interview with The Guardian.
After all my research I think it's highly likely she was given a medicine containing arsenic, Ashford told The Guardian. When you look at her list of symptoms and compare them to the list of arsenic symptoms, there is an amazing correlation. I'm quite surprised no one has thought of it before, but I don't think people realize quite how often arsenic was used as a medicine.
It's no surprise that Austen fans are still wondering about her 1817 death at the age of 41. She is by far one of the most romanticized authors, one whose life and works have inspired several movie and television adaptations. There have even been literary spin-offs, from modern tales such as The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler to more fan fiction-esque takes such as Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange.
But Ashford believes she has found the answer. She cited a letter in which Austen wrote the following: I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour.
This coloring, Ashford wrote on her Web site, is consistent with arsenic poisoning. Ashford also cited a conversation with a woman who told her that a lock of hair belonging to the late author did, in fact, test positive for arsenic.
This inspired Ashford's novel The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen, which was published earlier this year.
'The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen' is the product of all that I have learned and imagined in the three years since I came to live in Chawton, Ashford wrote on her Web site. It's a work of fiction inspired by facts and I hope that those who read it will be both intrigued and fascinated by a possibility which has been overlooked until now.