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.


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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,

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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.

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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’

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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.

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CFP: Invasion to Integration

We are delighted to promote the below conference co-organised by Peter Keeling, an Invasion Network member and blog contributor.


To download a copy please use the below link:


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Invasion Network Meeting at Lancaster, 2nd May 2016

Eleventh months on from our inaugural conference, the Invasion Network met at Lancaster University on 2nd May to discuss ongoing research and future projects. Hosted by the Head of Lancaster’s Department of History Mike Hughes, attending IN members included Ailise Bulfin, Michael Matin, Pete Mills, Tony Taylor, and Harry Wood. The primary topic of conversation was ‘Literature and Propaganda: William Le Queux, Invasion Scares and Spy Fever, 1880-1920’, a special edition of Critical Survey showcasing the research of the network and due to appear in mid-2017. This collection of essays will interrogate and interpret Le Queux’s life and legacy from a variety of scholarly angles, and the meeting offered an opportunity to ensure the contributions are developing in a coherent and interconnected way. Unifying research questions include the idea of Le Queux as a ‘populist’, the extent of his role (both quantifiable and subjective) in encouraging invasion anxieties, and the challenges of analysing a figure who left such a small archival footprint.  Having now set deadlines for drafts and established group editorial procedures, ‘Literature and Propaganda’ is moving in an exciting direction.


Invasion Network team outside Lancaster Castle. From left to right: Harry Wood, Pete Mills, Tony Taylor, Ailise Bulfin, Mike Hughes, Michael Matin


The meeting then moved on to future plans and opportunities for the Invasion Network. Firstly, it was decided that the network will aim to hold a symposium or conference every two years. We are happy to announce that the next such event will be ‘War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933’, and will be hosted at Lancaster University. This event, for which a call for papers will shortly be circulated, is designed to develop on the strengths of the IN, which currently favour British invasion anxieties of the late-Victorian and Edwardian period. We wish to expand this focus geographically and temporally, assessing the fear of invasion as a global phenomenon, and analysing how fears expressed in different nations and regions informed each other. Areas of interest include:

  • 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, South East Asia and coastal China
  • European fears of invasion
  • Fears of invasion in the United States
  • Indigenous fears of Western/colonial invasion
  • Global concerns about mass migration
  • Espionage, secret societies, terrorism and anarchism
  • Sinophobia and Russophobia
  • Invasion fears in war time (such as Zeppelin scares) and in the interwar period
  • Female authors and readers, and gendered aspects of invasion fears

More details about this event will be available very soon, starting with the confirmation of a keynote speaker. The workshop will be aimed at all levels of academic scholarship, and we are especially keen to receive paper proposals from postgraduate students and early-career researchers.

We closed the meeting by thanking Mike Hughes for his hard work and hospitality in hosting the event, and expressing our excitement about the future of this young research network. We look forward to our next event in 2017 in which both the remit and the membership of the IN will be broadened.

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