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British Modernism and Chinoiserie$
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Anne Witchard

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748690954

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748690954.001.0001

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The Idea of the Chinese Garden and British Aesthetic Modernism

The Idea of the Chinese Garden and British Aesthetic Modernism

(p.91) Chapter 5 The Idea of the Chinese Garden and British Aesthetic Modernism
British Modernism and Chinoiserie

Elizabeth Chang

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter argues that a comparative lack of British interest in traditional Chinese gardens during the period 1880-1914, often interpreted as evidence of Japan’s more ready appeal, obscures the complexity of organic exchange going on between Britain and East Asia at this time. Celebrated plant hunters were launching daring expeditions into unexplored Western China; those plants, upon importation, were so successfully and quickly naturalized that they became evidence of the landscape conformity that Japanese designs were held to resist. What’s more, even as these plant hunters were publishing their travel narratives for a broad audience, select British readers were absorbing a very different view of Chinese gardens through the outré works of French and British writers. Spurred by the retranslation of Thomas De Quincey’s works into French, late nineteenth-century French decadents found inspiration in the same provocative elements of Chinese behavior and landscape that British Romantics had found a century before. Octave Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden was read and appreciated by Oscar Wilde, among others, and formed a part of a larger fin-de-siècle European reconsideration of the East. It is the combination of the multiple forms of the Eastern garden that provide a new way of understanding aesthetic internationalism.

Keywords:   Sir William Chambers, Gardens, Plant hunters, Octave Mirbeau, Thomas de Quincey

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