In Chapter 22 of Northanger Abbey one of the minor clues given about General Tilney’s character as a somewhat despotic and unnatural head of a family is that he prides himself on a huge kitchen garden with walls ‘countless in number, endless in length’ and comprising ‘a village of hot-houses’ and ‘a pinery’, which had produced one hundred pineapples in the last year. The point about pineapples is that since their introduction to Britain in the seventeenth century they had always exerted a curious fascination over the English imagination, witnessed not least in their frequent use as architectural ornaments in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century architecture. They were an exotic luxury; they were outlandish in appearance; and not being native to Britain they could be raised domestically only in expensive artificial conditions. But they were nevertheless enticing and delectable and appealed to the sophisticated and privileged palate that could alone afford them. A measure of at least unnaturalness is hinted at in General Tilney’s cultivation of them. A passage in Thomson’s The Seasons catalogues the exotic fruit of the world, ‘the lemon and the piercing lime’, ‘the deep orange’, ‘the spreading tamarind’ with ‘its fever-cooling fruit’, ‘the massy locust’, ‘the Indian fig’, and so forth, most of which Thomson, whose travels were restricted to France and Italy, had never seen growing.
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