“Nothing Really in It”: Gothic Interiors and the Externals of the Courtship Plot in Northanger Abbey
The washing bills that the heroine discovers in a cabinet in Jane Austen's early novel Northanger Abbey are traditionally read as parodying the Gothic trope of hidden manuscripts. The mundane itemization of male clothing, I argue, does not merely pit the everyday against Gothic improbability. The washing bill plot invites readers to reflect critically on courtship plots and their own emotional investment in happy endings. By drawing attention to the papers' appearance, content, and location, Austen uses the washing bills as evidence for how courtship novels and readers' affective expectations repress the material facts central to both marriage and novel reading: men and books have bodies. The complex interplay of surface and depth that characterizes the washing bill plot is central to Austen's quest to devise a form for the novel that engages the reader both critically and emotionally. By linking the washing bills to the novel's other jarring reminders of the materiality of books and reading, this article makes the broader claim that a full understanding of the form of eighteenth-century novels requires combining the methods of formalism and book history.
Baudot, Laura. 2011. "'Nothing Really in It': Gothic Interiors and the Externals of the Courtship Plot in Northanger Abbey." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 24(2).
University of Toronto Press