Leisure Reading and Austen's Case for Differentiated Time

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This essay considers Charlotte Lennox’s and Jane Austen’s critiques of Quixotism in The Female Quixote and Northanger Abbey. While Lennox defends leisure reading if it serves as useful study, Austen insists on learning nothing from novels as a way of making a strong case for the value of differentiated time. Through her depiction of reading scenes and character testimonies about their reading, and through her techniques of narrative duration (as Gerard Genette defines it – techniques of pace and rhythm), Austen emphasizes absorption in the duration of reading along with easy release. The value of qualitative duration and the way leisure reading promotes it, according to Austen, ride on full immersion combined with temporariness. This combination signals a sound discrimination between fictional and real worlds as well as a strict differentiation between reading time and other times, safeguarding leisure against the encroachments of rationalization. The essay concludes by reflecting on the implications of Austen’s perspective to our own work as scholars of literature. Austen’s case for leisure reading as differentiated time, I propose, urges us to reframe our professional ambitions modestly.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-183
Number of pages21
JournalEighteenth Century
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


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