William Le Queux published The Great War in England in 1897; the novel imagines a war in which troops from Russia and France invade England from the south coast. British troops hold out, eventually assisted by troops from Germany, India, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Was this fanciful?
At this time, Britain’s European alliances were not fixed, and France was seen as a more likely adversary than Germany. Le Queux imagines the French ‘despising the English, and […] looking forward to a day not far hence when their battleships will bombard our south coast towns…’.
Was this typical of a genre at the time?
‘Invasion literature’ had been partly influenced by writers’ fears of the diminishing strength of British armed forces. The Battle of Dorking (1871) was written by an army veteran in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, and imagined Britain invaded by German forces. In the preface, Le Queux makes known his viewpoint – ‘our country is inadequately defended and totally unprepared for war’. War is seen as inevitable – ‘When the Great War does come, it will come swiftly, and without warning’.
Is the book written in a similar way to H G Wells’s novel?
While in The War of the Worlds, H G Wells writes in terms of the personal experience of the Martian invasion, Le Queux focuses more on a fast-moving adventure tale. There is more or less continuous fighting, few named protagonists, and the book is illustrated with regular scenes of land combat and naval battles. The style is sensationalist – ‘The attack was desperate. There is something terrible in a fight in a wood at night’ – not unlike a lurid, but safely distant, newspaper account.