Ode to Jane on her Death

picture of Jane Austen

Cassandra’s portrait of Jane

In early 1817, while writing a new novel, Sanditon, (a fragment was all that she managed) she started to feel unwell. All the family were worried about her. Her thoughts at this time, garnered by her letters are that she ‘will become well’; that it is just time and she will be recovered. She certainly had a positive attitude and given the good quality organic food she was eating and the meditation in the form of prayer, we could hope for a recovery. She even had a special donkey saddle fashioned so that she could ride around and enjoy the Hampshire countryside she so loved. But life can be cruel. Just as she was coming to an independence she would have always yearned, just as she was at the peak of her creative powers, just as she was the happiest she’d probably ever been, fate struck with an illness that nothing was to cure.

Jane Austen left Chawton to be under the instruction of a doctor in Winchester. Edward, her wealthy brother, provided the carriage for her and Cassandra, her sister, her favourite brother, Henry and a nephew rode alongside. It was both metaphorically and in reality raining and Jane worried that the two men would catch cold. It must have been a somber procession. Jane spent two months in Winchester under the instruction of the doctor but despite moments of hope, Jane never really improved and it was here she breathed her last breath. Cassandra was by her side with Jane’s head on her lap on a pillow. In hindsight there seems several possible causes: an insidious cancerous lymphoma, Addison’s Disease, a re-occurrence of the typhus she had as a child or a derivative of it or even bovine tuberculosis brought on by drinking unpasteurised milk.  She succumbed to death in the early morning light of 18th of July 1817.

Jane Austen was dead. All that lived were the completed novels, the Austen Six, (Persuasion and Northanger Abbey would be published later in the year) the Juvenilia, the fragments Sanditon and The Watsons, Lady Susan and her letters. Naturally her readers through the ages would have liked more; but the Austen Six are so exquisite that we can only thank fate that at least we have these. Rest in Peace Jane Austen.

Image result for jane austen donkey saddle

The donkey cart now at Chawton

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