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  • A. Michael Matin (a1)

The first major example in what would become a long line of popular pre-1914 British invasion-scare narratives was the inflammatory 1871 tale The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer. Through its vivid depiction of a German invasion and conquest of Britain, this story was designed to serve as a warning to Britons about the necessity of securing the nation's defenses. The dramatic impact of this work on the Victorian reading public and the political culture of the era has been treated by a number of scholars, most notably I. F. Clarke. Yet little attention has been accorded to the reaction it elicited from the professional peers of its author, Lieutenant-Colonel George Chesney. This interdisciplinary essay – which joins the study of literature with military history and politics – seeks to shed new light on the circumstances surrounding this extraordinarily influential tale, as well as on the genre it popularized, in large part by examining its reception by British officers. It begins by describing the tale's prehistory and emergence into widespread popularity and then evaluates the work's reception within armed forces circles. Some of the most trenchant assessments of this literary text, it turns out, were delivered within the austere confines of the Royal United Service Institution, a body whose meetings functioned as the crucible in which British military and naval judgments were forged.

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R. J. Q. Adams , and Philip P. Poirier . The Conscription Controversy in Great Britain, 1900–18. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1987. Print.

Rear-Admiral W. Arthur The Defence of the Coasts of England, Ireland, and Scotland in the Event of War.” Journal of the Royal United Service Institution 30 (1886–87): 671–94. Print.

Jean de [Ivan S. Bloch] Bloch . “The Transvaal War: Its Lessons in Regard to Militarism and Army Re-Organisation.” Journal of the Royal United Service Institution 45 (1901): 1316–44, 1413–51. Print.

I. F. Clarke . “Trigger-Happy: An Evolutionary Study of the Origins and Development of Future-War Fiction, 1763–1914.” Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 20.2 (1997): 117–36. Print.

I. F. Clarke . British Future Fiction: 1700–1914, vol. 6. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2001. Print.

Major-General T. B. Collinson On the Present Facilities for the Invasion of England, and for the Defence Thereof.” Journal of the Royal United Service Institution 21 (1878): 191. Print.

William Vernon Harcourt . “Our Naval and Military Establishments Regarded with Reference to the Dangers of Invasion.” Journal of the Royal United Service Institution 16 (1873): 575632. Print.

J. W. M. The Siege of London: Reminiscences of “Another Volunteer.” London: Robert Hardwicke, 1871. Print.

Cass R. Sunstein Worst-Case Scenarios. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.

Alfred Vagts . “Hopes and Fears of an American-German War, 1870–1915.” Political Science Quarterly 54.4 (Dec 1939): 514–35; 55.1 (March 1940): 53–76. Print.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
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