War and the Muses - "Invasion Literature"
Britons are very sensitive to suggestions that their tight little island might be open to a surprise invasion. Historically ,after William the Bastard’s invasion and overthrow of Saxon England in 1066 there had been a number of attempts to invade Britain, usually by the French though most famously by the Spanish in 1588.
Although Napoleon had concentrated an army purportedly for an invasion of Britain in 1805, this did not come to pass, and with his removal from the scene fears of invasion had waned. The advent of Napoleon III to power in France in 1852 revived fears of French invasion, but these faded after he was overthrown in the summer of 1870 during the Franco-Prussian/German War. Of course, over the next few years there arose the possibility of a German invasion.
Even before the rise of a united Germany fear of invasion had often inspired newspaper editorials, letters to The Times, and parliamentary bloviation. There were also magazine serials, novels, and plays about the possibility of an invasion. The invaders were initially French, sometimes aided by the Russians, but just after the Franco-Prussian War, Germany was the enemy in an 1871 serial The Battle of Dorking. The Battle of Dorking and most other invasion genre serials were written as sort of travelogues. Each installment saw the fighting move from area or area as the invaders marched further into England on the way to London; this was rightfully believed to stimulate sales, for as the enemy reached each new town local people would snap up the latest installment to see what horrors the invaders would inflict upon their communities. Ultimately, of course, these stories usually ended with a British rally and the defeat of the invaders, though not always. The genre was so popular, that H.G. Wells’s novel The War of The Worlds, which was first published as a serial in 1897, was actually modeled on it. As naval tensions rose between Britain and Germany in the early years of the twentieth century, the Germans were most frequently the invaders.
Such literature was by no means limited to British publishers. Similar “future war novels” were popular in Germany, such as the 1907 Die “Offensiv-Invasion” gegen England (The Invasion of England) or the 1912 Frankreichs ende im Jahr 19?? (The Fall of France in 19??).
One of the many invasion genre books had an amusing history. In early 1906 the novel The Invasion of 1910, by Anglo-French journalist, author, and adventurer William Le Queux (1864-1927) appeared as a serial in The Daily Mail. The story recounted a devastating German invasion of Britain, in which much of eastern England fell to the enemy, who actually occupy London. There, however, a British counter attack combined with a popular uprising resulted in the slaughter of the invaders. Soon published in book form, The Invasion of 1910 sold an amazing million copies in 27 languages. One of those languages was German, an unauthorized edition being brought out as Der Einfall der Deutschen in England “The German Invasion of England”), though the final chapters were thoughtfully deleted so that the book ended with the Germans in occupation of Landon with victory seemingly imminent.
The best of the “invasion genre” literature was the 1903 novel The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers (1870-1922), which is still quite readable. In it, an English gentleman is invited by a casual acquaintance for a sail along the North Sea coast, during which they discover that Germany is secretly preparing to concentrate a transport fleet in the Frisian Islands for a surprise invasion of Britain; Kaiser Wilhelm himself even puts in a brief appearance. While the plot may seem far-fetched, the Kaiser’s war planners had studied just such a plan in 1897, but rejected it as too risky, so it’s possible Childers had been tipped off about the German interest by friends in the British intelligence services. The book had the beneficial result of inspiring the formation of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and was made into a rather superior film in 1979.
Although they had their origins in fear of invasion, these serials and books arguably played a role in increasing international tensions in years leading up to the outbreak of the Great War.
FootNote: The Invasion No One Talks About. Although the English prefer not to treat it was such, the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 was essentially touched off by a Dutch invasion of England. William's fleet was about twice the size of the Spanish Armada and he brought along about 12,000 troops, mostly mercenaries in Dutch pay, as he could not count on the support of the English Army.