In contrast to William Le Queux’s pre-1914 novels about German spies and invasion, his wartime writing is much less well known. Analysis of a number of his works, predominantly non-fictional, written between 1914 and 1918 shows that he modified his perception of the threat posed by Germany in two ways. Firstly, because of the lack of a German naval invasion, he began to emphasise the more plausible danger of aerial attack. Secondly, because of the incompetent handling of the British war effort, he began to believe that an ‘Invisible Hand’ was responsible, consisting primarily of naturalised Germans. Switching form from fiction to non-fiction made his writing more persuasive, but he was not able to sustain this and he ended the war with less influence than he began it.
This article examines how Le Queux’s writings about Russia both reflected and shaped the construction of the country in the British imagination in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first part examines Le Queux’s early novels, showing how his conviction that tsarist Russia posed a major threat to the security of the British Empire was reflected in his surprisingly positive treatment of the Russian revolutionary movement. The second part then examines how Le Queux’s later writings on Russia reflected the changing nature of international politics following the outbreak of war in 1914. Russia’s new-found status as Britain’s ally in the First World War shaped the content of a number of books written by Le Queux in 1917–1918. These include Rasputin the Rascal Monk (1917) and The Minister of Evil: The Secret History of Rasputin’s Betrayal of Russia (1918), in which Le Queux claimed that Rasputin was a creature of the German government.
The Politics of William Le Queux
This article provides a detailed examination of the politics of William Le Queux. It argues that he is best understood as a product of the Edwardian radical right. Firstly, through exploring the politics of pre-1914 invasion anxieties and invasion-scare fiction, the article will question the idea that such literature was fundamentally Tory in quality. Instead, this emerging genre of popular fiction will be placed to the right of Edwardian Conservatism. Approaching Le Queux through his position as the most prominent author of British invasion literature at this time, the article will re-examine the available biographical evidence, highlighting the challenges scholars face in pinpointing his political leanings. Le Queux’s numerous invasion-scare novels will be interpreted through the disparate ideas of the radical right. Although Le Queux’s writing had little intellectual influence on radical right thinking in Britain, his novels provided this developing ideology with a prominent popular platform.
‘William Le Queux, Master of Misinformation’
Ailise Bulfin and Harry Wood
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.
Case Study of William Le Queux’s The Invasion of 1910 – ‘Not an ordinary “pot-boiler”’
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.
William Le Queux’s Dubious Place in Literary History: Part One
A. Michael Matin
Shortly after the outbreak of World War One, Charles Masterman was appointed by Prime Minister Asquith to oversee a covert literary propaganda campaign in support of the British war effort. Although William Le Queux had been one of the most prominent British anti-German writers during the prewar years, he was not recruited for this governmental endeavour that included many of the nation’s best-known writers. Nonetheless, he continued on his own to publish anti-German propaganda throughout the war. These two articles assess Le Queux’s national security-oriented writings within that broader context, and they offer a methodology for gauging the potential efficacy of such texts based on recent developments in the field of risk-perception studies. Part One provides a historical and methodological foundation for both articles and assesses a number of Le Queux’s pre-1914 works. Part Two (published in Part II of this issue) examines Le Queux’s career and writings from 1914 through to his death in 1927.
William Le Queux’s Dubious Place in Literary History: Part Two
A. Michael Matin
Shortly after the outbreak of World War One, Charles Masterman was appointed by Prime Minister Asquith to oversee a covert literary propaganda campaign in support of the British war effort. Although William Le Queux had been one of the most prominent British anti-German writers during the prewar years, he was not recruited for this governmental endeavour that included many of the nation’s best-known writers. Nonetheless, he continued on his own to publish anti-German propaganda throughout the war. These two articles assess Le Queux’s national security-oriented writings within that broader context, and they offer a methodology for gauging the potential efficacy of such texts based on recent developments in the field of risk-perception studies. Part One (published in Part I of this issue) provides a historical and methodological foundation for both articles and assesses a number of Le Queux’s pre-1914 works. Part Two examines Le Queux’s career and writings from 1914 through to his death in 1927.
War Novelist, Defence Publicist and Counterspy
Roger T. Stearn
This article presents what is widely considered to be the best biographical account of the life of the controversial popular author, journalist and amateur spy, William Le Queux. The article originally appeared in Soldiers of the Queen, the journal of the Victorian Military Society, and is reproduced here with their kind permission in order to bring it before a new audience. It documents Le Queux’s life, from the little that is known about his early career through to his high-profile involvement in defence scaremongering before and during the First World War to his subsequent lapse into postwar obscurity.
Images of London in Dissolution in the Novels of William Le Queux
In the years before 1914 the novels of William Le Queux provided a catalyst for British debates about the economic, military and political failures of the empire and featured plots that embodied fears about new national and imperial rivals. For Le Queux, the capture of London was integral to German military occupation. Representative of the nation’s will to resist, or its inability to withstand attack, the vitality of London was always at issue in his novels. Drawing on contemporary fears about the capital and its decay, this article considers the moral panics about London and Londoners and their relationship to Britain’s martial decline reflected in his stories. Engaging with images of anarchist and foreign terrorism, and drawing on fears of covert espionage rings operating in government circles, this article probes the ways in which Le Queux’s fiction expressed concerns about London as a degenerate metropolis in the process of social and moral collapse.