Illness features strongly in all the novels of Jane Austen. The topic is used to move plots along, shape characters and often to trigger comedy. But did it preoccupy her so much because – in her day, and in her own case – good health was often hard to hold onto? If Jane Austen had lived in this century, she probably wouldn’t have died so young. One suspected cause of her death, at the age of 41, was Addison’s Disease, a kidney problem where the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones. Symptoms include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, exhaustion and darkened skin – all symptoms that the novelist wrote of in her letters to family members.

Nowadays, someone with this condition would be given the required hormones (cortisol and aldosterone) in tablet form to keep them well.