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Clues from Jane Austen's writings shake up beliefs about what killed her


So, maybe Jane Austen didn't die from Addison's disease after all. An article published in this month's Medical Humanities analyzes her papers and finds the described symptoms at odds with the widely believed posthumous diagnosis of Addison's.

Instead, author Katherine White, chair of the executive committee of an Addison's disease self-help group, posits the cause of death was disseminated bovine tuberculosis, which could have been contracted by drinking milk. This would have been perfectly ordinary in 1817, when Miss Austen died at age 41. And White argues that the symptoms are a good fit.

None of this makes it any less sad that the author of my favorite book died relatively young -- and without finding a real-life Mr. Darcy -- but I'm glad to think she was spared the pain and confusion of untreated Addison's disease.

White writes:

"In a letter written less than two months before her death, as she was recovering from a period of severe illness where she had been too weak to leave her bed, Jane Austen wrote to a close friend that 'My head was always clear, and I had scarcely any pain.'"

"Austen retained her formidable lucidity to the last: less than 48 hours before she died, she dictated 24 lines of comic verse to her sister Cassandra from her sickbed."

More in The Guardian here.

Photo by scrappy annie

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