Quaint Empires:

Japan, Aesthetics, and Imperial Politics in the Novels of Natasha Pulley and Lian Hearn


  • Helena Esser


aesthetics, Mary Crawford Fraser, cuteness, exoticism, global neo-Victorian studies, Lian Hearn, imperialism, Meiji Japan, Natasha Pulley, Orientalism


In the exoticising Victorian British imagination, Japan was constructed as beautifully atemporal, at once modern and medieval, sophisticated and infantile, unintelligible and universal, outlandish and safely familiar, both asserting and challenging Western supremacy – not unlike the neo-Victorian gaze on the Victorian era. Responding to Antonija Primorac and Monika Pietrzak-Franger’s call for global neo-Victorian studies, which considers the nineteenth century across temporal as well as global and transnational axes, this article examines how two British authors attempt to challenge and re-imagine Meiji Japan (1868-1912), by considering Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (2015) and The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (2020) and Lian Hearn’s The Storyteller and His Three Daughters (2013). In confronting a Victorian Orientalist imaginary which instrumentalised aesthetics of quaintness, cuteness, and eccentricity, these works discuss Britain’s relationship with and problematic implication in Japan as a rising Other Empire from a neo-Victorian perspective.