Jane Austen’s novels are full of numbers. Readers have long recognized her alertness to “the economic basis of society,” and critics have explored her fondness for offering precise measurements of time and space. The figure “half” is a special favourite, appearing with greater regularity in her novels than in those of almost all her best-known contemporaries. In exploring and contextualizing Austen’s use of the fraction, this essay argues that her preference marks a deliberate response to the pressures of her particular version of novelistic form: the marriage plot. The term also points to Austen’s more fundamental ontological outlook, to her sense of the fit between mind and world. Examining halves in Austen’s works reveals ambivalence towards the perfect fit of wholes, those structures of social and generic disciplinary containment that arise in reaction to a scarcity economics she knew all too well.


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pp. 297-315
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