Invasion Porn – Britain’s Curious Pre-WW1 Obsession With Novels About Foreign Occupation

Fears of enemy armies storming England’s shores have haunted Britons since the Vikings first hit the surf near Lindisfarne in the 8th Century. But in the years leading up to the First World War, European militarism rekindled these ancestral anxieties. In fact, it spawned a lucrative market for speculative "invasion fiction" and British readers couldn’t get enough.

Fears of enemy armies storming England’s shores have haunted Britons since the Vikings first hit the surf near Lindisfarne in the 8th Century. But in the years leading up to World War One, European militarism rekindled these ancestral anxieties. In fact, it spawned a lucrative market for speculative “invasion fiction” and British readers couldn’t get enough.

“In 1870, Britons watched with disquiet as Prussia’s military poured into France and put Paris under their guns. Could such a foe cross the English Channel and do the same to London?”

ZOMBIES ARE BIG RIGHT NOW. You’d have to have be dead yourself not to have noticed.

Once the exclusive province of cult-movie enthusiasts and horror flick aficionados, the undead have gone mainstream in the 21st Century. They’ve overrun our bookstores, multiplexes and game consoles; their lifeless eyes stare at us each week from our television screens. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has even been tapping into the public’s insatiable appetite for the zombie apocalypse to help raise general awareness of emergency preparedness.

Of course, this sort of of public obsession is nothing new; more than a century ago, the United Kingdom was in the throes of a similar fixation. But it wasn’t legions of walking corpses that fired British imaginations – it was the spectre of invading armies.

In 1870, Britons watched with alarm as Prussia’s military poured into France and within weeks had Paris under its guns. Could such an army next cross the English Channel and do the same to London? In the years that followed, novels envisioning England under the heel of a foreign Germanic power took the British book-buying public by storm. And as relations between London and Berlin worsened, sales of such publications skyrocketed. In all, an estimated 400 such stories were published in books and magazines in the years leading up to the First World World War.[1] In fact, it became a genre unto itself: Invasion literature. The stories, while largely consumed for entertainment’s sake, spoke directly to hawkish elements in the United Kingdom that agitated for more military spending.

By 1914, Britain and Germany were at blows and almost overnight, the market for this sort of speculative war fiction evaporated. Yet for a time, titles like those listed below were best sellers:

In a 19th century English best-seller, British armies like this one, marched off to fictional battle at Dorking.

In a 19th century English best-seller, British armies like this one, marched off to fictional battle at Dorking.

the-battle-of-dorking-ka-662x1024The Battle of Dorking

The book that touched off England’s “invasion craze” was The Battle of Dorking. Penned in 1871 by George Tomkyns Chesney, the 22,000-word short story describes a confrontation between an unnamed German-speaking nation and the residents of a small London suburb. In Chesney’s narrative, the invaders are able to reach the British Isles after decimating the Royal Navy using a futuristic super weapon known only as a “fatal engine”. Spoiler alert: the enemy wins the battle and captures Dorking, England falls and the whole of the British Empire withers. The story is told through the eyes of a survivor of the fateful clash many years later. The book was a huge commercial success, prompting other authors to try their hand at invasion lit.

The Invasion of 1910

148_quatre_ans_sous_la_botte_allemande

Propagandists had a field day with the 1914 German invasions of Belgium and France. One British author anticipated the atrocities.

British journalist William La Queux authored the landmark The Invasion of 1910 — often cited as the most popular book in the genre. The novel, which hit the stands in 1906, correctly anticipated a German onslaught against France and Belgium, but also imagined a follow-on amphibious assault of the British Isles. In the story, the invaders cross the North Sea, brush aside England’s woefully ill-prepared national army and capture the capital. As the occupiers tighten their grip over the country, a rag-tag resistance movement springs up led by a little-known Parliamentary backbencher. The underground grows with each new victory and eventually drives the enemy from British soil. A runaway bestseller, The Invasion of 1910 sold more than a million copies and was translated into 27 languages [2]. A film adaptation entitled If England were Invaded (aka The Raid of 1915) was produced in early 1914 and reached movie houses in the U.K. and North America the following year. An earlier work by La Queux entitled The Great War in England in 1897, published in 1894, describes a joint French and Russian invasion of the British Isles in which Germany comes to the aid of its Anglo ally.

fritzonthemarch2When William Came

Written in 1913 by Hector Hugo Munro (who would later die in the First World War), When William Came: A Story of London Under the Hohenzollerns tells of life in the English capital under a Teutonic police state — this following a takeover by Kaiser Wilhelm II’s legions. The book, like many others in the genre, was a thinly veiled appeal for Britain to expand its military.

The Backdoor

The United Kingdom wasn’t the target in The Backdoor, a serialized short story published in the fall of 1897 in the Far East newspaper, The China Mail – instead, the objective was Hong Kong. Penned by an anonymous writer, the story imagines an invasion of the colony by Britain’s future Triple Entente allies France and Russia, both of whom were busy in the late 19th Century expanding into Asia. Amazingly, the enemy’s plan of attack in the story is eerily similar to the real-life strategy used by the Japanese when they conquered the city in World War Two. This led to widespread suspicion that the Tojo’s generals may have relied on the text while planning their own assault in 1941. [3] The book was republished in 1997 as a novelty amid the Chinese hand over of Hong Kong.

swoop_photoThe Swoop!

Some authors injected a bit of levity into the subject of invasion. Case in point: P.G. Woodhouse’s The Swoop!. Published five years before the outbreak of the First World War, the novel was a biting satire in which Britain unexpectedly finds itself alone in a life and death struggle against a gamut of world powers including Russia, Germany, France, China, Turkey and the hypothetical Kingdom of Bollygollan. The coalition eventually swoops in to invade the British Isles (hence the title). Yet much to the astonishment of the aggressors, the English are far more consumed with cricket scores than they are with waging war and end up completely ignoring the occupation force. An Americanized version of the story was serialized in Vanity Fair magazine during the summer of 1915. Although with the death toll in Flanders reaching into the millions and 128 Americans having only just died in the sinking of the Lusitania, few in the U.S. likely found the subject of war very amusing.

Invasion U.S.A.?

Speaking of America, invasion literature, while not huge in the United States during the late 19th Century, still managed to find an audience. In Hugh Grattan Donnelly’s The Stricken Nation, from 1890, the U.S. suffers an invasion by an imperial Great Britain keen to repossess its former North American colonies. The book was moderately successful.

(Originally published in MilitaryHistoryNow.com on Sept. 14, 2014)

ADDITIONAL SOURCES
http://alternatehistoryweeklyupdate.blogspot.ca/2012/06/paranoid-fantasies-overview-of-invasion.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_literature
http://invasionscares.wordpress.com

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