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Spies and invasion fears

How does popular culture tell us about what people are preoccupied with? In this article Dr Jenny Macleod and Dr Nicholas Evans explore the theory.
© University of Hull

Beyond the media, popular culture reveals a lot about what people were preoccupied with, even if the books or music etc were not of great artistic merit. In Edwardian Britain, there were a clutch of fictional books that fed into fears of Britain invaded. They were widely read, and some were promoted by popular newspapers, such as William Le Queux’s. The Invasion of 1910 which was serialized in Northcliffe’s Daily Mail in 1906. The historian, David French, says that authors like Le Queux were trying to warn the government about the threat from Germany by writing fiction for a popular audience to gain the widest possible attention for these concerns. In Le Queux’s story, a secret army of spies, working in commonplace jobs as waiters or butchers, was ready to pave the way for an imminent invasion by Germany.

Another example of this mini-genre of invasion stories was by Erskine Childers. Riddle of the Sands was first published in 1903 and was reprinted at the height of wartime Germanophobia in 1915. It remains in print to this day. Its thrilling story tells of Carruthers who finds himself drawn into a spy adventure whilst on a yachting trip in the Baltic where he discovers German plans to invade England.

© University of Hull
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