Blog Post

A Textual Analysis of William Le Queux's Wartime Fiction

We have a tendency in our conscious recollection of the past to want to study those exciting/interesting moments in history. We imagine the Great War, for instance, with dirty and tired soldiers jumping over-the-top of their trenches and running towards machine gun fire. It need not be heroic or romantic, but those irregular hiccups in largley mundane lives speaks to an intrinsic desire to know the hectic nature of these aberrations. Memories of war often produce notions that "[n]ever was so much owed by so many to so few," a famous speech given by then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in regards to the Battle of Britain in 1940.

It is this anti-heroicism/romanticism of the soldier's experience in the Great War that I want to analyze. Yet, in that, I will immediately deviate - for it is precisely the soldier's experience I want to avoid. It is this notion that civilian life during the war was 'mundane' or unimportant that I wish to bring to light. The historian Adrian Gregory argued in his intricate and well-researched civilian history of the Great War that the British hold the soldier's experience above all else in historical study.

However, it is the civilian experience which can show so much about the history of the war. This is especially pressing in our current time. The centenary of the Great War is less than a year away and governments around the world are preparing to remember that epoch. This presents an immediate problem to historians: do we allow the same myths to be repeated? Specifically, do we once again, albeit now on a grander scale, allow the civilian's experience go unmentioned or least remain subordinate to the soldier's history?

I do not necessarily have any fleshed-out answers. However, I do believe that the production of this study into the civilian experience and interaction in the war will get the proverbial ball rolling. This year for my seminar in British wartime society, I will look at how fiction was created in part by civilian's own fears - fiction can be a tool to portray ideas and transmit fears. This is especially interesting in an era where technologies of war largely outreached people's understanding of their effects - that is, the technologies were known but not understood in use. Fiction was in part a way to understand or prophecize about future wars which civilians could not necessarily compare to any wars they knew.

One such author who wrote widely about this subject was the British William Le Queux. Le Queux's work changed through the years to stay relevant to then current issues, yet his books focused on invasions/attacks on Britain. I do not wish to discuss Le Queux's motives here, however I surveyed several of his books on the Internet Archive and the Gutenberg website. I read through some of them and then decided I would analyze the texts with Voyant Tools (a digital text analysis tool). My initial idea was to find a pattern between several of Le Queux's texts from 1895 to 1916. An expected/intuitive pattern that emerged was the increased use of "German" as war was eminent to the actual declaration of war in 1914. However, in these initial findings, one interesting word that I noticed was the use of "man." In a novel about German spies in Britain during a fictional war (written in 1910), Le Queux uses "man" frequently as an essentially ominous term - one that suggests the enemy could be anywhere at any time. This could mean any number of things, however, it seems to suggest a new fear that a future war would be so world-wide that it would touch home (a theme continous in Le Queux's novels).

I have barely scratched the surface but I hope to find further hidden patterns in Le Queux's novels in relation to pre-war invasion fears.

67

No comments