Tomorrow marks the 197th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, at 41, in a rented house at 8 College Street, Winchester, England. Biographers, medical experts and ordinary Janeites are still speculating about the cause of Austen’s many months of illness and untimely death. Did she have Addison’s disease? Lymphoma? Bovine tuberculosis? A recurrence of typhus? A close relative with a homicidal grudge and a convenient supply of arsenic?
Whatever the answer – and, let’s face it, we’re never going to know for sure – there is no doubting that Jane Austen was deeply loved, and deeply mourned, by those who knew her best. In a letter written two days after Austen’s death, her beloved older sister, Cassandra, penned this moving tribute:
“I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”
For those of us who know her only through her enduring work, she provides a different kind of sunlight. Let’s think of her tomorrow.