This essay argues that modern Anglo-American reading practices are structured by a system of value that defines the social against material appetite. This system of value is at root novelistic, based in an uneven narrative and characterological dichotomy between sexual desire and gustatory appetite, between the marriage plot that gives the nineteenth-century novelistic social its privileged form and what I call “the food plot.” And it is Jane Austen, I argue, who made this dichotomy central to the way we read. Situating Austen's fiction in relation to Malthusian political economy and shifting conceptions of literary character, I trace how the Austenian marriage plot that so crucially shaped the nineteenth-century British novel trains us to be primarily interested in a form of heterosexually structured interiority that measures its depth, in part, through its distance from appetite.

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