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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 Oriental and the Music Hall: Sound and Space in Thomas Burke’s Limehouse Chinatown

The Oriental and the Music Hall: Sound and Space in Thomas Burke’s Limehouse Chinatown

(p.156) Chapter 8 The Oriental and the Music Hall: Sound and Space in Thomas Burke’s Limehouse Chinatown
British Modernism and Chinoiserie

Paul Kendall

Edinburgh University Press

Dr Fu Manchu has proved the most enduring of the chinoiserie associated with Limehouse, however, this chapter concentrates on the representation of the space of Chinatown, rather than the representation of any one individual. It begins with a brief consideration of the Limehouse lair created for Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer, before focusing attention on the less remembered but once infamous literary chinoiserie of Thomas Burke. In particular, it examines the depiction of sound and music in his early works, and their utilisation in the construction of a Chinatown which was enmeshed within the wider East End, and whose Oriental practices intersected with Victorian music hall. In his combination of ancient Chinese melodies and pre-commercialised music hall, Burke assigned his Chinatown and East End to a previous era, his Limehouse was separated from the rest of London by time, as well as race and class. Although Burke in one sense offers Chinatown as a nostalgic alternative to the encroachment of the modern state and bourgeois culture, he also depicts it as a brutal slum where murder and suicide were commonplace. Burke’s subtly subversive chinoserie oscillates between negative and positive constructions of his synthesis of Victorian working-class and Chinese culture.

Keywords:   Thomas Burke, Limehouse Nights, Music Hall, Chinatown, Fu Manchu

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