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Introducing contingency and that which did not happen as necessary and revealing conditions both of Romanticism itself and of our critical relationship with it, Counterfactual Romanticism explores the affordances of counterfactualism as a heuristic and as an imaginative tool. Innovatively extending counterfactual thought experiments from history and the social sciences to literary historiography and literary criticism and theory, the volume reveals the ways in which the shapes of Romanticism are conditioned by that which did not come to pass. Exploring – and creatively performing – various modalities of counterfactual speculation and inquiry across a range of Romantic-period authors, genres and concerns, and identifying the Romantic credentials of counterfactual thought, the introduction and eleven chapters in this collection offer a radical new purchase on literary history, on the relationship between history and fiction, on our historicist methods to date – and thus on the Romanticisms we (think we) have inherited. Counterfactual Romanticism provides a ground-breaking method of re-reading literary pasts and our own reading presents; in the process, literary production, texts and reading practices are unfossilised and defamiliarised. To emancipate the counterfactual imagination and embrace the counterfactual turn and its provocations is to reveal the literary multiverse and quantum field within which our far-from-inevitable literary inheritance is located.

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A counterfactual ghost story
Damian Walford Davies

Deploying a creative-critical mode, this chapter prompts a debate as to the quantum and nature of the imaginative investment informing all critical engagements with the literary past. The chapter’s larger context is the biography of John Thelwall that the author is preparing; offering an inhabitation of the counterfactual in which the spectral figures prominently, the chapter details the archival lacunae and absences that prompt the counterfactual imagination. The critic-biographer embraces counterfactual speculation as a tool through which to (re)construct a literary-political life and to understand Thelwall’s own self-conscious acts of indirection and ventriloquism in a body of transgressive poetry related to a taboo-haunted family drama of 1816.

in Counterfactual Romanticism
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Counterfactual Romanticism
Damian Walford Davies

have tended; uncanny doubleness; possibilityhood; the multiverse of the material; quantum observation; dissident anachronism; the ironic and spectral; the frisson of a restitutive historical imagination; an acute consciousness of the constructedness of our various Romanticisms; and a dissatisfaction with things-as-they-are (in that talismanic Godwinian phrase). A fool sees not the same literary history that a wise man sees. Counterfactual heuristic, counterfactual imagination Catherine Gallagher has recently charted the genealogy of the ‘counterfactual imagination

in Counterfactual Romanticism
Mary Wollstonecraft’s Frankenstein
Damian Walford Davies

‘hagiographic devotion’ largely conditioned the negative character of that fate for two generations, during which Wollstonecraft’s name became shorthand for political and sexual monstrosity.17 In play also, of course, is our frustration with curtailment. We lament the fact that space and time were not given to Wollstonecraft to revise and refresh herself, and to come to terms with her condition as survivor at the fin de siècle. After all, ‘compensatory’ narratives – acts of consolatory reimagining and ‘undoing’ – are at the heart of the counterfactual imagination, as Mark

in Counterfactual Romanticism
From Misson to melodrama
Damian Walford Davies

that offer a creative modification of a pre-existing fictional world. That is, for Saint-Gelais, a counterfiction changes a particular detail of a previous fiction but also retains many basic plot parameters, rather than launching something effectively new 270 Piratical counterfactual, piratical counterfictional into a familiar setting (pp. 243–4). My contention is that both definitions of the term apply to my treatment.  3 Catherine Gallagher, Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press

in Counterfactual Romanticism
Counterfactual Romanticism and the aesthetics of contingency
Damian Walford Davies

object as in itself it really is not’ is to be conscious that the object is not exhausted by its appearance for us – an argument that has been made more recently by object-oriented philosophers who envision a ‘weird realism’ where things (and ideas and people) interact through aesthetic projections in contingent and sometimes unexpected ways. Plunging deliberately into the abyss of what never happened, the counterfactual imagination lodges its protest against the inexorable – a ‘Romantic’ gesture if ever there was one. Thomas Pfau characterises literature as resistance

in Counterfactual Romanticism
Damian Walford Davies

have excited a Byron who would have been swept along by the narrative pace of Wordsworth’s adventures. However – again countering the counterfactual (an instinct hard-wired into the counterfactual imagination) – it might have been too ‘advanced’ for Byron, at least at first. His own first efforts, as represented by Hours of Idleness (published, like Wordsworth’s Poems, in Two Volumes, in 1807), were still very much in the sentimental mode of regret for times past, lost youth, departed friends and abandoned lovers best expressed in the poems on Newstead Abbey, and

in Counterfactual Romanticism