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The Natural Catastrophe in Late Victorian Popular Fiction

'How Will the World End?'

Ailise Bulfin

This article explores late Victorian fictions of natural catastrophe and their relationship to contemporary developments in the natural sciences. During this era, popular culture had become saturated with an 'apocalyptic imaginary' – a myriad of images of degeneration, total war and the fall of civilisation. While the majority of popular catastrophe texts turn on disasters of a man-made, military nature, including global wars, nationalist uprisings, and domestic revolutions, a significant subset employ natural disaster as the means of catastrophe – some dramatising the astronomical theories of cometary collision or the heat death of the sun, and others postulating meteorological and geological disasters such as volcanic eruption, earthquake, fog, ice, flood, and even climate change. These include H.G. Wells and George Griffith's tales of comet strike, M.P. Shiel and Grant Allen's volcano tales, and William Delisle Hay, Robert Barr and Fred M. White's accounts of deadly fog. This article relates this little-known body of texts to developing Victorian concerns about the sustainability of human life on earth, arguing that by focusing on determining the causes of the catastrophes depicted it is possible to see links emerging between 'natural' catastrophe and human activity in Victorian thinking and hence the development of an ecological awareness.

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The International Circulation and Impact of Invasion Fiction

Case Study of William Le Queux's The Invasion of 1910 – ‘Not an ordinary “pot-boiler”’

Ailise Bulfin

Abstract

A key text of the pre-First World War invasion fiction genre, William Le Queux's The Invasion of 1910 (1906) is often assumed to have sold in vast quantities and provoked major controversy. This article investigates the circulation and social impact of this divisive, polemical work before and during the war to provide a more accurate account of its reception. Using Marie Corelli's proven bestseller The Sorrows of Satan (1895) as a comparator, the article shows sales of The Invasion of 1910 were similar to other bestselling novels, though not comparable to Corelli's phenomenal sales. Le Queux's text, however, punched above the weight of the typical bestseller in terms of its social influence, receiving parliamentary censure, extensive newspaper coverage, wide satire and polarised reader responses. Overall, this analysis provides insight into the workings of the popular fiction industry and the nature and extent of invasion fears in the early twentieth century.

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Introduction

‘William Le Queux, Master of Misinformation’

Ailise Bulfin and Harry Wood

Abstract

The Introduction prefaces a double special issue of Critical Survey examining the work of controversial popular author, journalist and amateur spy William Le Queux from 1880 to 1920. Known as the ‘master of mystery’, Le Queux was prominent in transmitting exaggerated fears about British national security before, during and after the First World War. The Introduction provides a historical and literary framework for the special issue and outlines its central premises: that cultural production in Le Queux's era was intimately connected with contemporary socio-political forces; that this relationship was well understood by authors such as Le Queux, and often exploited for propagandist purposes; and that the resulting literary efforts were sometimes successful in influencing public opinion. The Introduction also outlines the overall finding that Le Queux's work tended to distort his subject matter, misinform his readership, and blur the lines between fact and fiction in pursuit of his defencist agenda.