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. ), German Spies in England (London: Stanley Paul, n.d. ) and The Way to Win (London: Simpkin, etc, n.d. ), 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.
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. ) 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 http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/247557.
[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.