Was Jane Austen Poisoned by Arsenic?

Modern techniques could reveal whether the celebrated English novelist’s surviving hair contains unusually high levels of arsenic

Ferris Jabr 

On April 27, 1817, Jane Austen sat down and wrote her will, leaving almost all of her assets—valued at less than 800 pounds sterling—to her sister Cassandra. In May, the sisters moved to Winchester, England, so the bedridden Jane would be near her doctor. On July 18, only a few days after dictating 24 lines of comic verse to Cassandra, Jane died.

Since at least the 1960s Austen scholars, doctors and fans have tried to retrospectively identify the curious illness that killed the 41-year-old English author. Crime novelist Lindsay Ashford thinks she has finally solved the mystery. Austen, she proposes, died of arsenic poisoning. And scientists have the tools to find out if she is right.

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