Russia and Invasion Literature

Introduction from an original article by Derek Linney (author of To view the full article click here:  Russia and Invasion Literature Essay. To download or view the full article (pdf) click here: Russia and Invasion Literature

Derek Linney (2015), Have academic studies of Victorian and Edwardian invasion literature significantly under-represented the importance of Russia as a threat to Britain and its empire in popular literature between 1871 and 1914?

Invasion literature proliferated between 1871, with the publication of The Battle of Dorking, and the beginning of the First World War[1]. The genre was initially precipitated by concerns over the threat posed by the newly consolidated Germany and its success in the Franco-German war of 1870. However, for much of the period up until the early 1900s, Britain’s potential enemies were identified as its imperial rivals of France and Russia. From 1900 Germany started to feature again as a major threat in the popular literature, for example with the publication in 1903 of The Riddle of the Sands and in 1906 in Le Queux’s hugely successful If England Were Invaded. After 1906 Germany dominated the genre through to the start of war in 1914. Specific imperial crises such as Egypt (1882) and the South African War (1899-1902) were reflected in the popular literature. While many stories were produced for purely commercial gain, the genre was also used as a propaganda mechanism to put pressure upon government with regard to defence strategy and spending[2].

This essay will analyse the changing nature of the perceived threat to Britain, its fleet and its empire reflected in the literature with a specific emphasis on the threat from Russia. It also relates the nature of the threats in the stories to military and diplomatic events and the changing anxieties within Britain regarding the security of the nation and the empire.

In 1988 Cecil Eby analysed sixty works of invasion literature dating from 1871 to 1914 in which Germany featured 41 times as the enemy, France 18 times and Russia only eight times and then ”usually allied with France”; there was a smattering of other foes[3]. Eby plots the changing nature of the imagined enemy: “…invasion narratives serve as convenient weather vanes pointing towards three storm centres publicized by the Foreign Office[4]. Although he identifies the emergence of Russia in the narratives after its 1894 alliance with France this essay will show that his analysis under-represents the importance of Russia within the invasion literature genre in general and especially during the period 1885-1905. Similarly, Mariangela Tempera’s 1984 thesis Popular Literature as Propaganda in the “Future War” Tale (1871-1915) only mentions Russia once in its 187 pages[5]. I.F. Clarke’s Voices Prophesying War, 1763-1984, one of the seminal works on invasion literature, devotes substantial space to Germany and France but relatively little to Russia[6].

The analysis presented here extends that done by Eby but includes short stories as well as books and pamphlets. This extends the analysis to 135 works[7]. As with Eby it includes works that feature a near-future war or invasion involving Britain or a part of the British Empire. Included are spy stories that feature a near future confrontation or a recent, fictional, avoided confrontation. Excluded are: fantasy stories, parodies, pure science fiction, utopian visions and tales of civil unrest not involving direct input from a foreign power. Britain’s enemies are analysed by identifying the main protagonists – either in isolation or as part of an alliance – and are categorised by date of original publication. Over the whole period Russia featured as Britain’s enemy in 35 works[8]. This is only slightly behind France (38 works) although well behind Germany which was by far the most significant foe (69 works) [Table 1 & Chart 1].



However, the picture is significantly different during the 15-year period 1891-1905 with Russia featuring 23 times, France 28 times and Germany only 13 times[9]. Michael Stewart attributes the renewed focus on Germany as dating from the Kruger Telegram of 1895 but detailed analysis suggests that the upswing of stories featuring Germany does not start until 1899 and then only grows rapidly in the early 1900s in the aftermath of the Boer War[10]. I.F.Clarke sees the popularity of The Riddle of the Sands (1903) as signalling the beginning of the shift towards the German threat[11].

An analysis of the 35 works featuring Russia as Britain’s enemy shows that it was only operating in isolation in ten of the stories while it allied with France in 20 stories and Germany in nine works [Table 2 & Chart 2]. In five of these stories Russia, France and Germany were joint allies against Britain. However, during the period before 1900 Germany was often portrayed as an ally of Britain against Russia. Although Juvenile literature is not included in the current analysis it is noteworthy that Michael Paris shows that there was a similar focus on France and Russia as potential enemies in the many juvenile publications – magazines, comics and books – during the period up to 1905; after which Germany dominated as Britain’s enemy[12].



[1] There are three distinguishable, but overlapping, categories of fiction in the invasion genre: Invasion Scares, Future War Fiction – often featuring new techniques or technologies of warfare – and Spy Fiction. This essay uses the generic term “invasion literature” as a catchall.

[2] I. F. Clarke, Voices Prophesying War, 1763-1984 (London ; 1966), pp.128-130.

[3] Cecil D. Eby, The Road to Armageddon, (Durham, 1988), p.11.

[4] Ibid., p.20.

[5] Mariangela Tempera, Popular Literature as Propaganda in the “Future War” Tale (1871-1915) (England, France, Germany) (Indiana University, 1984).

[6] Clarke, Voices, pp.107-161.

[7] Listed in the bibliography as Primary Sources: Invasion Literature.

[8] Listed in the bibliography as Primary Sources: Invasion Literature featuring Russia as the enemy of Britain.

[9] Analysis of individual works relied on either examination of the original stories or commentaries in the secondary sources included in the bibliography.

[10] Michael D. Stewart, “Stranger Than Fiction”: Anglo-American-German Relations and Rivalries through Invasion Literature: 1890-1914, (M.A., Texas Woman’s University, 2012)., p.42.

[11] Clarke, Voices, p.116.

[12] Michael Paris, Warrior Nation, (London, 2000), pp.88-91.