Romanticism and the (counterfactual) Chinese awakening
in Counterfactual Romanticism
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Imagining the counterfactual at scale, this chapter explores the contours of an all-pervasive China-centric strand of Romantic Orientalism that never was. The chapter accounts for why China as both ‘topos’ and ‘culture’ failed to make as influential a mark on Romantic-period culture as one might have expected it to. Creatively defamiliarising Thomas Percy and Horace Walpole through the lens of the counterfactual, the chapter interpellates the reader through subtle strategies into a new cultural and literary history of the age. The return, at the end, to ‘history’ thus has the force of a repression of the Chinese counterfactual that parallels various evasions and forgettings at work in Romanticism’s own relation to the East.

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