The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford

AUSTEN
The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length(432 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

“Where would I begin to explain it all…?”

Twenty-six years have passed since the death of Jane Austen. Armed with a lock of Austen’s hair as perhaps her best clue, Anne Sharp, former governess to the Austen family and Jane’s close friend, has decided at least to tell her story—a story of family intrigues, shocking secrets, forbidden loves, and maybe even murder…

Upon its publication in the UK, Lindsay Ashford’s fictional interpretation of the few facts surrounding Jane Austen’s mysterious death sparked an international debate and uproar. None of the medical theories offers a satisfactory explanation of Jane Austen’s early demise at the age of forty-one. Could it be that what everyone has assumed was a day by natural causes was actually more sinister?

Lindsay Ashford’s vivid novel delves deep into Austen’s world and puts forth a shocking suggestion—was someone out to silence her?

Written in what seems a classic voice from the main character’s own time, Lindsay Ashford brings us Jane Austen – through the eyes of a friend.

The governess, Anne, is affronted by the very idea that Jane was little more than drab, sad being of the times. Jane’s nephew seems determined to portray his aunt as a particularly uninteresting person, with little life.

Anne – so long a governess for Jane’s brother’s children, has a much different view. Not only that – she has suspicions, long held suspicions. Framed as a memory of Anne’s, this tale opens with the discovery that Jane Austen was almost certainly poisoned. We sit back, ready for something on the lines of a detective novel – but no, Anne, our narrator, brings us back to the times she remembers. She begins with Jane visiting the home she works in, how they become friends, the discovery that something, or someone in that has is not …quite… what they appear.

The family is entangled in ways that don’t show on the surface. Anne, a mere governess, carefully pretends to remain unaware – but Jane, and her own dear sister Cassandra, can hardly have remained unsuspicious.

Ashford remains true to the time, and to her narrator. The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen offers an incredible level of intrigue, but in the style of its times. We are in an old family home, Godmersham Park. The downstairs servants apart from the family, and the mistress of the household, Elizabeth, is not the lovely sister-in-law what might imagine. In fact, more than one of the family apparently have some secret – it is the kind of secret that seems most important. There is an undercurrent of anger …and most certainly jealousy.

Whispers and rumors feed Anne’s ideas, as well as her own observations of the family. The aura of the times is most surely secure, with afternoon teas, and picnics for the children, and polite amusements like coming up with clever riddles. The adults attend balls.

As interesting and driving as the mystery is – this story also bring forward a delightful and truly interesting Jane Austen. It is wonderful to meet her ‘as a friend,’ and more wonderful to follow some of the events of her life. She is clever and observant and those things – things we learn from reading her own stories – might well have contributed to her death. Fiction it is, but I could believe it as biography.

The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen is the best story I have read in a very long time.

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