Improvement practices and their critique are core features of the Austen milieu. In this essay, though, I argue that in Austen's Northanger Abbey (1818), General Tilney's reliance on clock time to manage his estate's operations indicates a relatively unexamined aspect of the debate. Thus Austen contrasts the leisure of Bath to the labor of Northanger in order to highlight the new economic challenges that the landed gentry face. General Tilney's time-discipline management style suggests his anxiety about his home's declining value and his insistence on regulating his family's emotional lives. It reflects his effort to recoup some of his diminishing economic and patriarchal authority. Ultimately redefining the very notion of gentry leisure, Northanger Abbey functions as a site where domestic labor, leisure, and etiquette are all subordinate to the same rigid, time-discipline decorum that the General uses to regulate his home's marketable operations (e.g., its pinery, hot-houses, and timber). Viewing the General's chronometric improvements as both inhospitable and oppressive, Catherine Moreland's preference for the relaxed but modest Woodston at the novel's end is, in part, a reaction to the General's timekeeping dictums and, finally, an important register of the emotional toll that the General's improvement practices have wrought.
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