CFP: ‘Britain Afraid: Imperial Insecurities and National Fears, 1798-1945’, New LJMU History and Invasion Network conference

Britain Afraid: Imperial Insecurities and National Fears, 1798-1945

Liverpool John Moores University

11-12 June 2020

 Keynote Speaker: Professor Kim Wagner (Queen Mary, UCL)


LJMU History, in partnership with the Invasion Network, invites papers discussing the interplay between cultures of anxiety and fears in British national and imperial life, for presentation and discussion at a two-day conference at Liverpool John Moores University, 11-12 June 2020.

The study of imperial anxieties, fears of radicalism and invasion scares in Britain has long fascinated scholars, producing a rich corpus of material on late Victorian and pre-1914 panics, in particular those connected to espionage, terrorist attacks and the rise of rival powers. This conference seeks to expand the discourse on British anxieties outwards chronologically. In doing so, we aim to identify continuities and fractures in beliefs and fears from the period of the empire-shaking Irish Rebellion of 1798 through to the end of the Second World War. This will allow us to track the shifting contours of an enduring, adaptable and divisive set of interrelated discourses and to chart evolving practical responses to them across an historical era of great change for Britain, in both national and imperial contexts. To this end, we welcome individual paper submissions and suggestions for panels focusing on anxieties, imaginations and panics relating to the following topics:

  • Colonial wars, rebellions and insurgencies
  • Invasions of colonial and quasi-colonial spaces and/or the British Isles (e.g. British spheres of influence in China, Latin America)
  • Imperial rivalries and the rise of new powers
  • Terrorism (Fenian, anarchist or colonial)
  • Immigration waves and the incursions of “others” into British national life
  • Depictions of invasion, future war and terrorist attacks in fictional cultural works like novels, plays and films
  • Media discourse on invasion, future war, terrorism and imperial insecurities
  • Class, race, religion, gender etc in these discourses of fear
  • Digital humanities approaches to studying these discourses of fear


Submissions for individual papers should include the: name of presenter, paper title, abstract (200 words) and brief bio (50 words).

Submissions for panels should include: the names of the presenters, panel title, abstract (220 words) and brief bios of the participants (50 words).

Please send all proposals to no later than Friday 28 February 2020.



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Victorian Popular Fiction Association study day

A potentially relevant Victorian Popular Fiction Association study day/mini-conference will be held in Dublin in September. It’s on representations of threatened children in Victorian popular culture and there is potential cross-over with the invasion scare phenomenon in terms of looking at how children are represented in invasion fiction/used for propaganda purposes.

CFP for Victorian Popular Fiction Association Study Day: The Threatened Child in Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction and Culture

Friday, 20th September 2019, Humanities Institute, University College Dublin

Keynote: Professor Kathryn Hughes (University of East Anglia)

Walking Tour: Victorian Gothic Dublin, followed by dinner.

VPFJ Special Issue: Following the Study Day, we will be inviting delegates to submit journal articles based on their respective papers for publication in a special issue of the VPFA journal, Victorian Popular Fictions.

Proposal deadline: 14th June 2019          Details:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Invasion Network at the 2018 Victorian Popular Fiction Association conference

wow banner

I think it’s fair to say the Invasion Network successfully invaded the excellent 2018 Victorian Popular Fiction Association conference, and many thanks to the organisers Janine Hatter, Helena Ifill and Jane Jordan for hosting us. From an invasion fiction reading group to two panels devoted to the invasion theme, the network’s key area of interest was well represented.

The Invasion Fiction reading group, 4th July


The invasion fiction reading group, hosted by Beth Gaskell, Andrew King & Ailise Bulfin, selected The Battle of Dorking and The War of the Worlds as the texts to focus on. This pair of texts allowed us to examine the origins of invasion fiction and the broad and long-running range of responses to it, as manifest in Wells’s late-1890s alien invaders. It allowed us to consider questions such as: Why is War of the Worlds so well known, when Dorking isn’t? Is Wells’s protagonist more relatable to readers? Is it Wells’s fame? Does the Battle of Dorking change the perspective to the impact on civilians and the home front – thus changing the imaginative construct from distant, noble imperial wars? Did something similar happen with War of the Worlds, which may have worked against its own anti-militarist perspective by capturing the plight of the refugees under fire so convincingly? Did the genre successfully scaremonger people? Did invasion fiction ultimately pave the way for WW1? I can’t promise that we answered all these questions – but the discussion was enjoyable and certainly had people talking about the invasion scare phenomenon – which was the aim.

Invasion Fiction panel, 6th July

 Robert Dingley, ‘Secular Eschatology: The Guilty Pleasures of Invasion Fiction’

Yael Maurer, ‘Unmanned: H. G. Wells and the Breakdown of Masculinity’

Janine Hatter, ‘Rats as Late-Nineteenth-Century British Invaders’


The second invasion fiction panel opened with Robert Dingley’s shocking revelations about invasion-themed pornography (just when you think you know your subfield…), thereby truly confirming our theories that invasion is a pervasive, trans-media theme. We’ve found it in novels, short stories, pamphlets, journalism, poems, skits, cartoons, songs and plays – and now in erotica! Dingley very convincingly linked the explicit, pornographic sexual violence in the invasion-themed story in The Pearl (‘Frank Jones’ dream of the Sack of London by the Germans after the Battle of Dorking’, Christmas edition, 1881) with the implicit gendered trope in mainstream invasion fiction of a prostrate, feminised Britannia ‘quivering’ under the heel of the hyper-masculine brutish invader and ‘her’ resulting humiliation. He also convincingly tied this to the wider theme of secular apocalypse in fin-de-siècle culture, whereby the invaders paradoxically become the necessary catalyst for regenerating (i.e. re-masculinising) decadent Britain.

Yael Maurer’s paper followed on really well by exposing the representation of threatened masculinity in Wells’s War of the Worlds and The Island of Dr Moreau. Relating it to contradictions in the imperialist discourse that Wells’s was critiquing, she described how these texts expose the submerged fear of ‘unmanning’ at the heart of the impulse for colonial domination – ‘Are we not men?’ as the beast-men ask.

Janine Hatter, fearing initially that she was an interloper in a panel on interloping, ended up tying the whole panel together with her paper on rats as invaders in late-Victorian discourse. She confirmed the pervasiveness of the invasion theme from yet another direction by showing how its tropes were drawn on in reportage on and manuals about rat infestations – ‘the march of an enemy of rats’, etc. In fact, she noted that foreign rats were singled out as being even more insidious than their British counterparts. Her paper disclosed that these publications were additionally drawing on social purity discourse in their depictions of ‘rat revelries’ and the ‘rapacity of rats’ – very much linking the rats with Dingley’s sexual invaders. Ultimately she showed the complexity of this treatment of rat invaders as they unexpectedly function as signifiers of the truth in some of the narratives, bringing to light that which should have remained hidden and exposing the horrific living conditions of the poor.

Invasion Network panel: ‘Invasion, Empire and Popular Anxieties 1880-1918’, 4th July

This panel show-cased the latest work of the Invasion Network, widening out the way the topic is considered and querying assumptions about the reception of invasion fiction. It shifted the focus purely from tales which depicted large-scale military invasion, considered the strong links between invasion fiction and fictions of imperial surveillance and paranoia, and linked invasion fiction with the propaganda efforts of the First World War.

Chair: Dr Beth Gaskell

Paper 1: Ailise Bulfin, ‘Gothic invasions: Demonising the armed forces of Europe’

Paper 2: Michael Matin, ‘Invasion Fiction and the Late-Victorian Prehistory of the Wellington House Propaganda Project’

Paper 3: Kim Wagner, ‘Sahibs in Disguise: The Trope of Going Native and the British Imagination’

Paper 1 Abstract: ‘Gothic Invasions’: From nightmare visions of revivified Egyptian mummies on the loose in London to hordes of Oriental barbarians sacking Europe’s capitals to armies of brutish Prussians stomping down London’s Strand, the popular fiction of fin-de-siècle Britain was suffused with anxiety about invasion. This anxiety can be traced to concerns about the potential downside of Britain’s continuing imperial expansion – fears of growing armed inter-European rivalry and colonial rebellion, and was frequently expressed indirectly via the gothic mode, in the form of the gothic’s familiar monsters, the vampire, the demon and the mummy. What is less explored is how gothic themes and conventions were also deployed in the narratives that most obviously belong under the heading of ‘invasion fiction’ – those explicitly depicting the military invasion of the island of Britain by the armies of one or more of the European great powers. From their origins in General Sir George T. Chesney’s seminal, admonitory The Battle of Dorking (1871) to their culmination in the paranoid, Germanophobic worldview of William Le Queux in the early twentieth century, ‘invasion-scare’ tales habitually resorted to the gothic in order to adequately describe the brutality of the invading armies they depicted. This paper investigates the demonisation of the armed forces of Britain’s rival European powers in this body of fiction, demonstrating its stylistic and thematic similarity to the gothic tales of invasion. It argues that this gothicisation was tactical, designed to emphasise the threat Europe’s armies posed to Britain’s dominant imperial position and to strengthen the case for British military ‘preparedness’ that many of these military invasion tales were explicitly written to make. It concludes that in this tactical gothicisation, invasion fiction both anticipated and functioned as a rehearsal for the vast quantities of atrocity propaganda produced in support of the British campaign during World War I.

Paper 2: ‘Invasion Fiction and Propaganda’: On September 2, 1914, less than a month after the outbreak of the First World War, an extraordinary meeting of twenty-five of Britain’s best-known writers was secretly convened in London. Attendees included J.M. Barrie, Arnold Bennett, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, and H.G. Wells. The purpose of this gathering was to enlist in service of the war effort the country’s most accomplished and influential writers. The event had been arranged and was presided over by Charles Masterman, who had been appointed by Prime Minister Asquith to lead the fledgling British propaganda campaign.  Known as the Wellington House project, this became one of the most successful propaganda campaigns of the twentieth-century. This paper examines the way that British national and imperial invasion anxieties were generated by freelance propagandists during the late Victorian years in a way that would pave the way for the later, formal war-time propaganda effort of Wellington House.

Paper 3: ‘Sahibs in Disguise’: [summary given here – abstract to follow] Wagner’s paper examined the one of the paradoxes of imperial rule whereby the ability to maintain order depended on the ability to sufficiently understand indigenous societies. This in turn depended on having reliable ‘native’ sources from whom to obtain information. However, as these could never be fully trusted, the imaginative trope of going native developed in order to produce a comforting set of imperial mediators who could, via their putative ability to successfully disguise themselves, infiltrate native society to provide reliable intelligence – as for instance, in Kipling’s famous Kim (1901). Wagner pointed out that in reality this kind of successful ethnographic impersonation happened very rarely, and ‘sahibs’ tended to adopt disguise only to flee from anti-colonial conflict.

The full VPFA conference programme can be found on the association’s website.

Posted in Events, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Invasion Network panel at the Victorian Popular Fiction Association conference, July 2018, London

We are delighted to announce that the Invasion Network is hosting a special panel at the 10th annual Victorian Popular Fiction Association conference, themed ‘War and Peace’, at the Institute for English Studies, University of London, Senate House this July 3rd – 7th.

Special Panel 1: Invasion, Empire and Popular Anxieties 1880-1918 – in association with the Invasion Network, 4.30 – 6.30, Wed 4th July

Panel Host: Beth Gaskell

Ailise Bulfin, ‘Gothic Invasions: Demonising the Armed Forces of Europe’

Michael Matin, ‘Invasion Fiction and the Late-Victorian Prehistory of the Wellington House Propaganda Project’

Kim Wagner, ‘Sahibs in Disguise: The Trope of Going Native and the British Imagination’

The conference also features a reading group on the topic of Invasion Fiction, which is going to discuss H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898) and George T. Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871).

2.00pm – 3.00pm: Reading Group: ‘Invasion Fiction’, Wed 4th July

Hosts: Andrew King, Beth Gaskell and Ailise Bulfin

We are so delighted to be involved in a conference that features Warwick Goble’s well-known War of the Worlds illustration as its signature image. The full VPFA conference programme can be found on the association’s website.


Posted in Events, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Populism, Plutocracy, and the Destruction of New York: Ignatius Donnelly and the Politics of ‘Caesar’s Column’

We are delighted to share this piece by Invasion Network member Antony Taylor (Sheffield Hallam). It is based on a paper first delivered at the ‘War of the Worlds’ workshop in Lancaster (September 2017).

Before Los Angeles was routinely subject to destruction in fiction and cinema, most fantasies of urban collapse in the United States concentrated on the most advanced city of the financial and commercial age: New York. Representations of New York as a city of sinful luxury, corruption and self-indulgence prompted almost biblical depictions of the demise of the proud and haughty imperial heartland of high finance. The destruction of New York was the set-piece moment in H.G. Wells’ War in the Air in 1908.[i] Many of the anxieties represented by the tendency to imagine the destruction of advanced urban cultures arose from the populist and radical movements of the 1880s that inspired frenzied speculation about the dangers confronting the republic from unconstrained urbanisation, and the new ‘robber barons’ of the banks, railways and finance sector.[ii]

There is a long tradition of dystopian writing in the United States that draws on the notion of dangers and corrupting influences imperilling the purity of the republic. Focussed around revolution and internal subversion it provided a genre that attracted a number of prominent authors. Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, and Philip Roth are all examples of novelists who worked within this tradition to produce important books reflecting contemporary panics and anxieties about the direction of travel of American society.[iii] These were often novels of internal subversion, rather than invasion fiction per se. Conventional accounts like Hugh Grattan Donnelly’s The Stricken Nation (1890) imagining, a British reoccupation of the United States found little echo in popular culture.[iv] Until the military rivalries of the Great War era, most military threats to the US were still construed as domestic, rather than external in nature. Speaking in 1861, Abraham Lincoln noted that ‘danger cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher’.[v]

1889 was the centenary of the inauguration of George Washington as president, leading to a period of introspective about the health, stability and vigour of the republic. During this period, John Ames Mitchell, produced the jeremiad, The Last American, (1889) imagining a New York brought low by an unspecified catastrophe. Edward Bellamy trod similar territory with his image of a futuristic (and utopian) Boston arranged around a nationalised capitalism in Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888). Amongst the most significant future fiction to emerge from this period was Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column, written in 1889, imagining the world of 1988, which presented a vivid vision of a looted and devastated city, reduced to ruins by its own citizenry.

Donnelly’s career was characterised by many of the traits that feature in the profiles of authors of popular fiction. In common with other writers in this genre he followed the same arc of financial, political and social adventurism. With a background in unsuccessful land speculations in Minnesota and a career in the Granger, rural co-operative, Greenback and Populist movements of the eighteen-nineties, Donnelly was the author of numerous quack quasi-scientific tracts, notably, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882) and The Great Cryptogram (1888) that claimed Francis Bacon as the author of Shakespeare’s plays. These eccentric interests led to his sobriquet, ‘King of the Cranks’.[vi] His greatest success came with Caesar’s Column for which he claimed a world-wide sale of 700,000 copies. Donnelly wrote Caesar’s Column under the name of Edward Boisgilbert, rather than his own, but was revealed as the author soon after its publication. Describing technological marvels, including airships, futuristic architecture, and hand-held communications devices, the work is highly derivative of the fantastic fantasies of Jules Verne. It is speculated that it may have influenced George Griffith’s The Angel of the Revolution (1893) that imagined a Europe brought to the brink of destruction by a fleet of aerial anarchists.[vii]

Caesar’s Column was the most successful novel to emerge from the US populist movement. Described by Richard Hoftstadter as ‘nihilistic and sadistic’, it envisaged a New York dominated by ruthless plutocrats and bankers wielding control over the population through an aerial zeppelin fleet called ‘the Daemons’.[viii] The frequent resort to anti-semitic stereotypes and tropes and the plot device of the trafficking of women places it in a strong populist tradition and has contributed to its unpleasant reputation.[ix] The novel explored the widening gulf between the propertied and excluded in New York, leading inevitably to social disorder on the French revolutionary model. At the heart of the plot is the shadowy anarchist organisation, ‘the Brotherhood’ that orchestrates the distress emerging from poverty and discontent to foment urban revolt and the butchery of the city’s financier elite. The plot was propelled as much by the fear of restless migrant hordes as by a dislike of plutocratic wealth. Ravening dispossessed migrants, led by the Italian migrant, Caesar Lomellini, loot the city; the presence of the uncontrollable, disaffected migrant poor is a threatening and subversive element throughout the narrative, with strong elements of the New York ‘sunshine and shadows’ literature typified by Jacob Riis that chronicled the injustices dealt out to the urban excluded.[x] Haussmannite projects to renovate New York on the Parisian model in the eighteen-seventies and eighteen-eighties also enabled Donnelly to make significant references to the Paris Commune in his account.[xi] The novel is coloured by an intense dislike of urban civilisation and its sophistications and injustices. Donnelly believed that urbanisation led to degeneration and had unleashed the same ungovernable forces that overthrew Atlantis and Rome.

The novel focusses on the construction of a grisly monument to the rising comprising the bodies of dead plutocrats in Union Square (shown in the cover illustration below). This image provided a commentary on the cult of memorialisation in 1889, on the role of Union Square for workers’ demonstrations since 1882, and the fashion for vertical build in New York. The levelling of the city also drew on images of the constant infrastructural changes in New York relating to Henry James’ vision of the city as a place of endless reinvention and ‘restless renewals’.[xii]


In Donnelly’s fantasy of a dystopian New York, brought low by its own inhabitants, the renovation of society was by a retreat to the rural. Like many populists he believed that true virtue resided with those who tilled the soil.[xiii] Indeed, the highpoint of his political career was the drafting of the preamble to the People’s Party platform in Omaha in 1892.[xiv] Many of the themes of this address are repeated in the novel. Rootless international wealth and unconstrained migration of the poor, he believed, threatened Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a society based around the values of small yeoman proprietorships. Caesar’s Column ends with the hero escaping with George Washington’s beautiful descendant, Estrella, to establish an ideal rustic commune in Uganda. Widely read in settler/colonial society, especially Australia, and New Zealand, Donnelly’s novel became a key text for critics of urban society at the fin de siècle. In the Australian colonies it provided a metaphor for the wave of strikes in the maritime and mining industries that were a feature of the ‘nervous nineties’ during a period of trade contraction. Peter Love sees the novel as an influence on William Lane’s notorious story of a race war against the Chinese in Australia, White or Yellow? The Story of the Race War of A.D. 1908 (1888).[xv] Caesar’s Column attracted far less attention in Britain during the same period, despite its possible roots in and partial inspiration by Richard Jefferies’ After London (1885) which imagined a London so torn apart by internal tensions, disparities of wealth and power and environmental damage, that in a far distant future, the capital has collapsed into a bog.[xvi]

Expressive of the urban crisis at the end of the nineteenth-century, and drawing on populist arcadian notions of a return to the land as a solution to the increasing complexities of urban civilisation, Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column paved the way for other futuristic treatments of the destruction and devastation of the great cities of Europe and the new world. Awash with images of barbarian hordes, and ruthless, sadistic cosmopolitans divided by an unbridgeable gulf, the novel shared with the invasion narrative the vision of urban civilisation under siege, and expressed strong anxieties about hidden ‘fifth columnists’ promoting insurrection from within. Brutal and apocalyptic it might be, but its vision of urban culture as a blight was shared by a generation of progressives and social planners who sought the renovation of urban culture, through philanthropy, public works, or local government reform. Not strictly an expression of the genre of ‘invasion panic’ fiction, and, in part, transcending genre altogether, Donnelly’s novel, nevertheless, shared with the invasion narrative images of great cities laid low by a riotous population unleashed by the pressures of misgovernment, tyranny, conquest or subversion.

[i] H.G. Wells, The War in the Air (London, 1908 [Penguin, 1967]), pp 120-140.

[ii] Max Page, The City’s End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears and Premonitions of New York’s Destruction (Yale University Press: New Haven, 2008), pp. 34-46. For Los Angeles as ‘doom city’, see Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), ch. 6.

[iii] Jack London, The Iron Heel (1908); Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (1935) and Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (2004)

[iv] “Henry Grattan Donnelly”, The Stricken Nation (1890). The Stricken Nation is republished in its entirety in I.F. Clarke’s The Tales of the Next Great War, 1871-1914 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1997), pp. 162-192. There is little information relating to the author of The Stricken Nation. Hugh Grattan Donnelly is not the same person as Ignatius Donnelly, although, given that the book was published the year after Caesar’s Column, the author may have been paying a back-handed compliment to Ignatius Donnelly. My thanks to Michael Matin for these insights.


[vi] Martin Ridge, Ignatius Donnelly: Portrait of a Politician (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), ch. 16.

[vii] Nicholas Ruddick, ‘Introduction’, Caesar’s Column: A story of the Twentieth Century (Middletown, CT., Wesleyan University Press, 2003 [1889]), xxxiv-xl. For airships and the technological imagination, see Peter J. Bowler, A History of the Future: Prophets of the Future from H.G. Wells to Isaac Asimov (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), ch. 7.

[viii] Quoted in Allan M. Axelrad, ‘Ideology and utopia in the works of Ignatius Donnelly’, American Studies, vol. 12 (1971), p. 49.

[ix] Ignatius Donnelly’s novel Dr Huguet (1893), about a white man who changes colour, becomes Black, and experiences discrimination at first-hand, has sometimes been held up as a text that exonerates him from the charge of racism displayed elsewhere in his books, but was probably really about that period in the history of the populist movement when it sought alliances with non-white farmers.

[x] Andrew Lees, Cities Perceived: Urban Society in European and American Thought, 1820-1940 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), pp. 127-8.

[xi] Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 821-22.

[xii] Quoted in Page, The City’s End, p. 23

[xiii] Donnelly was also the author of The Golden Bottle, or the Story of Ephraim Benezet of Kansas (1892), which imagines a utopia where the populists have won and farmers thrive.

[xiv] Robin Archer, Why is there no Labor Party in the United States? (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 211.

[xv] The Bulletin, 21 July 1894, p. 6, John Docker, The Nervous Nineties: Australian Cultural Life in the 1890s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), ch. 9 and Peter Love, Labour and the Money Power: Australian Labour Populism, 1890-1950 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1984), pp. 10-14.,

[xvi] Mike Davis notes the overlaps between Donnelly and Jefferies’work: Davis, The Ecology of Fear, p. 290. There is a reference to Caesar’s Column in Land and Labour, 1 September 1891, p. 6.

Posted in General Invasion topics | Leave a comment

Workshop & Meeting report for Invasion Network workshop at Lancaster University, 8th Sept 2017

Workshop & Meeting report for ‘War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933’, Invasion Network workshop at Lancaster University, 8th September 2017

  1. Summary of the papers and discussion

Overall the workshop met its core aim of broadening the focus on the invasion scare phenomenon to consider how invasion was represented outside Britain and beyond the 1870-1914 period. Michael Hughes showed that although Russia did not have a comparable body of military invasion fiction to that present in Britain, Germany, France, Australia, America, etc., there was a strand of Russian popular fiction that replicated invasion fiction’s xenophobic treatment of internal and external issues. Within this Hughes identified a ‘Tartar bogey’ based on fears of the Muslim populations of Russia’s conquered territories, ‘yellow-peril’-type fears following the Russo-Japanese war and fears of Russia’s European military rivals. Antony Taylor discussed the key American populist work, Caesar’s Column (1890) by Ignatius Donnelly, which mobilised American fears of immigrant populations (in a comparable manner to that of the Russian fiction discussed by Hughes) and of vested ‘plutocratic’ interests. Taylor showed the text’s influence on both U.S. populism and emergent Labour parties in the British colonies of settlement. Michael Matin discussed the extensive number of propaganda titles issued by the British government during WWI as listed on the covertly circulated Schedule of Wellington House Literature, identifying those of interest to invasion scholars and arguing that the relatively restrained British propaganda campaign during WWI paved the way for the more ruthless campaigns that were to come in subsequent eras.

Questions of definition were raised throughout the workshop, prompted by David Glover’s opening question in his keynote speech as to ‘what kind of cultural object’ an invasion scare story is. Given the propagandistic as well as sales intent behind so many invasion tales, it was agreed that they can be considered to be of a somewhat different order to much of the comparable popular and literary fiction of the period. For this reason, it was agreed that they make an interesting and apt object of study for those interested in gauging the reception and effects of popular fiction, as the Invasion Network’s forthcoming special edition of Critical Survey on William Le Queux has attempted to do. It was agreed that more work could be done in this area, and suggestions were made for a digital humanities project to compile and analyse a database of primary sources, factual and fictional, and to apply techniques such as topic modelling to gain insight into the overall pervasiveness of the fear and its links with the fictional representations. Funding options for this project will need to be investigated.

More specific questions of definition were also asked with regard to the literary genre of the invasion tale, with Glover outlining a spectrum ranging from the ‘hard-core’ military invasion tale to the spy thriller which became more dominant after WWI, as control of information began to overshadow military technology in the tales and the setting of the action migrated from defending the home shores to tracking foreign agents abroad. The hard-core military invasion tale itself partially belongs in several of the following over-lapping categories: imperial adventure, science fiction, political thriller, general potboiler, etc. And taking into account this generic fluidity, Glover offered the concept of conspiracy set out in Jerry Palmer’s Thrillers (1978) as a helpful lens through which to read the invasion tale, as invasion plots by definition require secrecy and the genre is fuelled by paranoia as an ideology.

Glover also noted the overlap between military invasion fears and immigration fears, identifying Walter Wood’s The Enemy in Our Midst (1906) as worth further investigation from this perspective. Daniel Renshaw elucidated this intersection further in a paper that discussed the extreme right-wing view of immigration as part of a co-ordinated foreign conspiracy against Britain, comparable to the xenophobia that underpinned more traditional invasion fiction. Renshaw investigated how this fear was expressed in the form of the monster figure in notable late-Victorian gothic texts including Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan (1894). A notable finding in this and several other papers, such as Taylor’s and Glover’s, was the marked presence of anti-Semitism in invasion discourse, and the conflation of various racial stereotypes (such as those against Jewish, Chinese and Italian people) in the service of a broad anti-foreign agenda. It was noted that religion and gender continue to be under-researched themes in invasion studies.

Within the more traditional remit of invasion scholarship, Derek Linney’s paper (kindly read out in his absence by Richard Scully) performed a quantitative analysis of the representation of Britain’s enemies and allies in pre-1914 invasion fiction, notably revealing the lack of portrayals of Britain fighting alongside allied powers, despite its growing participation within the real-world system of alliances. Christian Melby argued for the need to nuance the reading of empire in pre-war British invasion fiction and identified three views of empire operating within the genre: empire as weakness, empire as strength and empire as providing a long-term vantage point from which to speculate about Britain’s future; a complex set of views which both reinforced and conflicted with each other. Harry Wood identified the need to systematically interrogate how ‘commonplace’ invasion was as a popular fear in pre-1914 Britain (as opposed to relying on ‘big claims’ that it was ‘a national obsession’) and identified potential avenues of research, notably using oral history records, to obtain information on the reception of invasion fears outside of elite responses. Following on from this, Ailise Bulfin’s case study of the circulation and reception of Le Queux’s The Invasion of 1910 showed that while the ‘big claim’ that the text sold 1 million copies is unlikely to be true, the text sold well in Britain and abroad and produced a strong public reaction, largely from those motivated to dismiss its claims. Thus rather than provoking the fear of invasion, the text arguably provoked an elite fear of the effects of xenophobic demagoguery on a mass readership perceived as gullible. (Abstracts of the papers will be posted soon.)

  1. Next projects

In the roundtable discussion, there was considerable discussion of the marked similarities between the xenophobic rhetoric that preceded WWI and that circulating currently. In this vein Richard Scully observed that Robert Harris’s Fatherland (1992) could be read as a Europhobic comment on its historical moment rather than on WWII. It was suggested that our next output take the form of a group publication, with the putative title ‘A History of Post-Truth’, discussing this phenomenon and giving some pertinent examples aimed at publication in a more general-audience outlet such as History Today or Prospect.

It was suggested that the group could put together a panel on invasion and war for the 2018 Victorian Popular Fiction Association annual conference, which is on the theme of War and Peace.

It was debated whether the theme for the next Invasion Network workshop in 2019 should be the logical chronological step forward to consider invasion fears during WWII and the Cold War, or one with the wider remit to consider invasion fears post-1933 – i.e. taking in current versions of invasion fears.

It was agreed to continue to use the Invasion Network blog in conjunction with Twitter to further the work of the group.


Posted in Events, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

2017 Invasion Network workshop schedule

‘War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933’

Invasion Network workshop funded by the Irish Research Council and hosted by the Department of History at Lancaster University. All talks take place in the Storey Institute, Meeting House Lane, Central Lancaster. 8th September 2017.


9.45 – 10.00 Opening remarks by Ailise Bulfin and Harry Wood

10.00 – 11.20 Keynote address and questions

David Glover, ‘“The Stage of Civilian Controversy”: From Invasion to Conspiracy and Beyond’

11.20 – 11.40 Coffee Break

11.40 – 13.30 Panel 1

  • Derek Linney, ‘A quantitative approach to the analysis of Britain’s enemies and allies in Invasion Literature of the period 1871-1914.’
  • Michael Hughes, ‘Why did the Russians not have an Invasion Literature’
  • Christian Melby, ‘Britain or Empire? Local, National and Imperial identities in British Invasion-Scare Fiction, c.1871-1914’
  • Harry Wood, ‘A National Obsession?: The Pervasiveness of Edwardian Invasion Anxieties’

13.30 – 14.30 Lunch

14.30 – 16.30 Panel 2

  • Antony Taylor, ‘Populism, Plutocracy and the Destruction of New York: Ignatius Donnelly and the Politics of Caesar’s Column
  • Michael Matin, ‘Trans-Atlantic Propaganda of the Great War: The Covert Wellington House Publications List, 1914-1918’
  • Ailise Bulfin, ‘The international circulation and reception of invasion fiction: Case study The Invasion of 1910 v. The Sorrows of Satan
  • Daniel Renshaw, ‘Monsters in the Capital’ – Count Dracula, Mrs Beaumont and the migrant ‘other’ of 1890s London’

16.45 – 17.45 Invasion Network roundtable – all welcome

7.00 Conference dinner – The Toll House restaurant, Penny Street, Lancaster,

Posted in Events, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Podcast on William Le Queux

Words to that Effect Literary Podcast series by Dr Conor Reid.

Episode 1: Invasion Fiction, William Le Queux, and Fake News with Dr Ailise Bulfin

What is invasion fiction?

Who was the mysterious William Le Queux? Why did a group of famous British authors secretly meet at the outbreak of World War I? And what did “fake news” look like a century ago?

William Le Queux Invasion Fiction Illustration

Episode 1 of Words To That Effect explores the power of words and communication. William Le Queux, rarely read today, was in his time a hugely successful author of invasion fiction stories. Exploiting a public fascination and concern with Britain’s preparedness for a military invasion, he created sensational best-selling tales such as The Great War in England in 1897 and The Invasion of 1910. His work was part of a massively popular subgenre of literature known as invasion fiction. This subgenre, often also called future war fiction, began in the 1870s and proliferated right up until the First World War.

Joined this week by Dr. Ailise Bulfin, of Maynooth University, I examine the life of Le Queux and the connections between war, communication, and literature.

Posted in Le Queux, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CFP: War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933

Extended CFP Deadline 31st July

War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933

One-day international workshop organised by the Invasion Network at Lancaster University, 8th September 2017.

Key-note speaker: Professor Emeritus David Glover

Call for Papers Deadline: 31st July 2017

Hosted by the Department of History, Lancaster University and supported by the Irish Research Council, this is the second international workshop of the Invasion Network, a group of social and cultural historians, literary scholars, and a range of other specialists and independent researchers working under the broad theme of invasion, with a particular focus on British invasion fears in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. ‘War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933’ seeks to expand this focus geographically to consider the fear of invasion as a global phenomenon and temporally to take in the period between the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) and the rise of the German Third Reich. We invite papers that consider invasion fears in any region in which the fear became a notable social phenomenon and/or analysing how fears of invasion and future conflict expressed in different nations and regions informed each other. Papers may consider any form of representation – fictional, journalistic, visual, etc. Possible areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • European fears of invasion and future conflict
  • U.S. fears of invasion and future conflict
  • Fears of invasion in the colonial and quasi-colonial territories of the British empire – including but not limited to Ireland, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Latin America, South East Asia and coastal China – including the fears of the colonised and the colonisers
  • Global concerns about mass migration
  • International espionage, secret societies, terrorism and anarchism
  • Sinophobia and Russophobia
  • Invasion fears in war time (such as Zeppelin scares) and in the interwar period
  • The global circulation and reception of invasion texts
  • Female authors and readers, and gendered aspects of international invasion fears

The workshop is aimed at all levels of academic scholarship, and we are especially keen to receive paper proposals from postgraduate students and early-career researchers.  Please send abstracts of 300 words and a short biographical note (150 words) to Dr Harry Wood ( and Dr Ailise Bulfin ( by 31st July 2017. Enquiries also to these addresses.

For more information on the Invasion Network:


Vulnerable East Anglia from the cover of John Buchan’s ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’

Posted in Events | Leave a comment

William Le Queux in Melbourne: Bibliographical Notes

In the following, I want to share some recent bibliographical findings and musings about William Le Queux. While planning the Invasion Network’s forthcoming special issue on Le Queux in Critical Survey, I committed myself (rashly) to trying to establish the veracity of the often-cited, but never substantiated claim that The Invasion of 1910 (1906) sold over a million copies.[i] Harry and I suspect that the source may in fact be Le Queux himself in the propaganda ‘exposé’ German Spies in England (1915), which, given Le Queux’s reputation for embellishing, would cast doubt on the claim. We intend to publish the full findings on this in a bibliographical note to accompany the special journal issue, but for the moment, here is some of what I found out on a recent research trip to Melbourne.

Le Queux is well represented in the catalogue of the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, speaking to a readership there, with colonial and Melbourne-published editions of his work pointing to his sales potential. The library contains one London-published Macmillan colonial edition of The Invasion of 1910, dated 1906 and noted as the 5th impression on the title page, implying it went through 5 print runs in this format in its first year, the first one issued no earlier than late July/August. Most of the rest of the Le Queux works in the catalogue are propagandist fictions and tracts from the First World War years, again indicating the wide dissemination of his scaremongering and its possible implication in the propaganda wars for Australian volunteers and the Australian conscription debate. These works include the small, cheap, pamphlet-style exposés Britain’s Deadly Peril (London: Stanley Paul, n.d. [1915]), German Spies in England (London: Stanley Paul, n.d. [1915]) and The Way to Win (London: Simpkin, etc, n.d. [1916]), the latter written in March 1916 and predicting Britain’s ‘coming victory’ just months before the Somme campaign began. Also present is a Melbourne-published version of The Secrets of Potsdam (Melbourne: Melville & Mullen 1917); this was a ‘startling exposure of the inner life of the Courts of the Kaiser and Crown-Prince’ purportedly revealed by the German informant Ernst Von Heltzendorff and ‘chronicled’ by Le Queux, but reading more like fiction than some of Le Queux’s most sensational fictional texts.

Also present is the large, luxury volume The War of the Nations: A History of the Great European Conflict, vol. 1 (London: Newnes, 1914), which is full of on-location photographs and dramatic, specially-commissioned illustrations.

War of the Nations

The irony of commissioning someone as pathologically indisposed to telling the truth as Le Queux seems to have been to write a ‘history’ seems glaring; on the other hand this mendacious tendency made him the ideal candidate to produce propaganda, as The War of the Nations in essence was. Like the small tracts, it is full of Le Queux’s favourite scaremongering hobbyhorses – the presence of an advance guard of German spies in Britain (and also in Belgium); the dastardliness of the ‘War Lord’ Kaiser’s long plans for war cloaked beneath a rhetoric of peace; endlessly exaggerated versions of German atrocities in Belgium – not just sanctioned but explicitly ordered for tactical purposes by the Kaiser; and of course, on the other hand, the heroism of the ‘splendid’ Tommies. These ‘factual’ texts are accompanied in the library catalogue by a fictionalisation of the same themes in At the Sign of the Sword: A Story of Love and War in Belgium (London: Jack, 1915), the title pretty much summing up the plot, in which the heroine falls into the hands of the Kaiser’s drunken, barbaric ‘hordes’ and is on the point of ‘ravishment’ before her timely rescue by the dashing Belgian officer-hero.

Many of the war-time works highlight on their title pages and front matter the fact that Le Queux was the author of The Invasion – this was the successful abridged version of The Invasion of 1910 published by Newnes in 1910.  This reissue and the fact that Newnes chose Le Queux as the sole author of The War of the Nations, a well-finished volume that must have been expensive to produce, again testifies to the lasting impact and selling power of The Invasion of 1910.

The pamphlets seem to have sold well also: the front matter in The Way to Win in early 1916 notes the sales of 120,000 copies of German Spies in England and 14 editions of Britain’s Deadly Peril by that date. Le Queux at this point seems to have been a one-man propaganda machine, and, given the number of publishers churning out his war pamphlets and fictions, one considered profitable by the industry. It is also worth mentioning that the works mentioned here are just a selection of the very many more similar works Le Queux produced during the war years, and hence, even though he reused material considerably between them, he must have been working at a frantic rate.

Other interesting holdings are a Melbourne-published edition of Le Queux’s Rasputin the Rascal Monk (Melbourne: Melville & Mullen, n.d. [1918]) and a Melbourne-published edition of George Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (Melbourne: Robertson, 1871), ‘Reprinted from Blackwood’s magazine for May 1871’, and available online at

[i] The usual source for this claim is I. F. Clarke, but Clarke doesn’t give his source, see the Introduction to The Battle of Dorking and When William Came (Oxford: Oxford Popular Fiction: 1997), p. xvii.

Posted in Le Queux | 1 Comment