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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.

Scott, Banim, Galt and Mitford
Damian Walford Davies

1824. Together, they point to a crux in the history of factual and counterfactual writing that coincides – not by accident – with a heightened awareness of speculation and its role in driving economic behaviour, including the economy of the literary marketplace. It is at this moment, ten years after Walter Scott’s initial success with the historical novel Waverley, that the genre he popularised takes a distinct counterfactual turn. In 1824, Scott – still nominally hidden behind the pseudonym ‘the Author of Waverley’ – published Redgauntlet, a tale that repeats the

in Counterfactual Romanticism
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Counterfactual Romanticism
Damian Walford Davies

of engagement and animating dialogue with history that amounted to a new subjectivism. What such strategies opened up was a new context for historical inquiry: the past’s own affective field. A decade ago, at the end of the introduction to a collection of essays that reflected on the inheritance of Romantic New Historicism (which has shown no signs of being supplanted as a methodological orthodoxy in Romantic Studies in the intervening years), I called for a counterfactual turn that would represent not so much a break with New Historicism as an innovative

in Counterfactual Romanticism