Blog Post

Invasion!? What Invasion?

The British Parliamentary database, Hansard, is a free online digital archive of all parliamentary debate reports from 1803 to 2005. In my study of Le Queux I am using parliamentary debates to look at how parliament viewed invasion fears. Without the availability of diaries or letters from civilians in the lower classes at this time, it is difficult to gauge how much fears represented in popular fiction actually pervaded society. However, using parliamentary papers, I can begin to make sense of fear at, least, a political and upper class level. Furthermore, it allows me see how much parliament officially dealt with Le Queux in the period of 1894-1906.

It is initially apparent that Parliament cared little for Le Queux. During this period, there was only a single mention of Le Queux in Parliament. On March 13, 1906, following an advertisement for Le Queux's The Invasion of 1910 published by the Times newspaper, Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman was asked whether the ad concerned him. Bannermen responded that the government can do nothing about it and that he would leave judgement to the “good sense and good taste of the British people.” This short and rushed conversation ended and the proceedings went on to discuss other matters. To political figures and upper class citizens, Le Queux was a popular fiction writer who appealed to mass culture and published for the lower classes. However, even if Le Queux was not directly seen as a threat, how were his representations of general fear in Britain seen in parliament? It is precisely those 'other matters' that parliament discussed where we can see to what degree and in what form invasion fears were presented.

When searching the database for the word "invasion" from 1900-1909, there are hundreds of pages of results. Interestingly, one finds that invasion is rarely used to discuss a possible invasion of the British Homeland. Rather it is used to discuss anything from economics, trade, etc. In fact, when used in relation to British defence, it is mostly in regards to British colonies and foreign territories suchas the defense of India. However, "invasion" is used in debates about army estimates, structure, and recruitment. In these cases, invasion of the British homeland is brought into question. There are the conservatives who wish to expand and restructure to army and navy and the liberal party who wants a slow increase rather than a complete overhaul of the system. The fear rested in naval supremacy first and then homeland defense. For Britain's navy had been the island's only major defensive line and invasion deterrent for centuries. Yet in this period, French and German naval power had matched (one could argue exceeded) British supremacy. If the strongest line of defense was breeched, what hope was there for the British army, much weaker than the navy.

Yet I questioned how much invasion was mentioned in these debates about British defense. A quick run of all debates aout army estimates and recruitment from 1904-1907 (a year after the publishing of Invasion) in Voyant Tools showed that invasion was mentioned very few times. Though this shows that during this period invasion fears were a lot less than I originally suspected, it is still important to realize that there were many debates about restructuring and expansion of the military.

My next step is to find sources (namely letters and diaries) from lower classes to see how much invasion fears pervaded the general population.

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