Skip to main content


  • 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.

Hide All
Adams R. J. Q., and Poirier Philip P.. The Conscription Controversy in Great Britain, 1900–18. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1987. Print.
After the Battle of Dorking; or, What Became of the Invaders! London: George Maddick, 1871. Print.
Andrew Christopher. Her Majesty's Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community. 1985. New York: Viking, 1986. Print.
Annual Register 1 (1871): 108. Print.
Arthur Rear-Admiral W.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.
Baden-Powell General Robert. Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship. 1908. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.
Barber Benjamin R.Fear's Empire: War, Terrorism, and Democracy. New York: Norton, 2003. Print.
Barrington Captain J. T.England on the Defensive; or, The Problem of Invasion Critically Examined under the Aspect of a Series of Military Operations. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, 1881. Print.
Battle of Dorking, A Myth; England Impregnable: Invasion Impossible. London: Simpkin, Marshall, 1871. Print.
Bloch Jean de [Ivan S. 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.
The Bookbuyer's Guide 7 (September 1871): 10. Print.
Bourke Joanna. Fear: A Cultural History. 2005. Emeryville: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006. Print.
[Chesney, Lieutenant-Colonel George Tomkyns]. “The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer.” Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 109.667 (May 1871): 539–72. Print.
[Chesney, Lieutenant-Colonel George Tomkyns]. “By the Author of ‘The Battle of Dorking.’” The New Ordeal. Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1879. Print.
[Chesney, Lieutenant-Colonel George Tomkyns]. “The Writer of the Tale in ‘Blackwood’ [sic].” “The Battle of Dorking.” Spectator (3 June 1871): 671. Print.
Clarke I. F.The Battle of Dorking: Second Thoughts.” Extrapolation 40.4 (Winter 1999): 277–83. Print.
Clarke I. F.. “Before and After The Battle of Dorking.” Science Fiction Studies 24.1 (March 1997): 3346. Print.
Clarke I. F.. “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871–1900.” Science Fiction Studies 24.3 (Nov. 1997): 387412. Print.
Clarke I. F.. “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.
Clarke I. F.. Voices Prophesying War: Future Wars 1763–3749. 1966. Revised ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992. Print.
Clarke I. F., ed. The Battle of Dorking and When William Came. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.
Clarke I. F.. British Future Fiction: 1700–1914, vol. 6. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2001. Print.
Clarke I. F.. The Tale of the Next Great War, 1871–1914. Liverpool and Syracuse: Liverpool UP and Syracuse UP, 1995. Print.
“The Cobden Club.” The Burden of Armaments: A Plea for Retrenchment. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1905. Print.
Cobden Richard. The Three Panics: An Historical Episode (1862). The Political Writings of Richard Cobden. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1903. 2: 537704. Print.
Collinson Major-General T. B.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.
Colomb Rear-Admiral Philip et al. The Great War of 189 –: A Forecast. London: William Heinemann, 1893. Serialized as The Great War of 1892 in Black and White (1892). Print.
Concord: The Journal of the International Arbitration and Peace Association (16 March 1892): 58. Print.
Dixon Edward T. “Finis Britanniae: Extract from One of a Series of Popular Lectures on Modern History, Delivered at Harvard, A. D. 1935.” National Defence (March 1909): 482–90. Print.
“An Englishman and Civilian.” The Invasion of England, Considered in a Letter and Postscript to “The Times,” . . . Containing the Opinions of the Duke of Wellington, and of Other Officers of Distinction, on This Important Subject. London: J. Ridgway, 1852. Print.
Fergusson James. The Peril of Portsmouth; or, French Fleets and English Forts. 1852. 3rd ed.London: John Murray, 1853. Print.
Finkelstein David. “From Textuality to Orality – The Reception of The Battle of Dorking.” Books and Bibliography: Essays in Commemoration of Don McKenzie. Ed. Thomson John. Wellington: Victoria UP, 2002. 87102. Print.
Furedi Frank. Invitation to Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown. London: Continuum, 2007. Print.
Gardiner A. G.The Life of Sir William Harcourt. Vol. 2. London: Constable, 1923. Print.
Gooch John. The Prospect of War: Studies in British Defence Policy 1847–1942. London: Frank Cass, 1981. Print.
Griffiths Robert J.Under the Deep Deep Sea, The Story of the Channel Tunnel. London: Moffatt & Paige, 1887. Print.
Harcourt William Vernon. “The Difficulties of Invasion.” London Times (24 May 1872): 8. Print.
Harcourt William Vernon. “England in 1802 and 1872.” London Times (16 Jan. 1872): 4. Print.
Harcourt William Vernon. “Mr. Vernon Harcourt and Colonel Baker.” London Times (5 June 1872): 6. Print.
Harcourt William Vernon. “Our Naval and Military Establishments Regarded with Reference to the Dangers of Invasion.” Journal of the Royal United Service Institution 16 (1873): 575632. Print.
Head Francis B.The Defenceless State of Great Britain. London: John Murray, 1850. Print.
Hemyng Bracebridge. The Commune in London; or, Thirty Years Hence: A Chapter of Anticipated History. London: C. H. Clarke, 1871. Print.
Hickson Colonel S. A. Einem. “Invasion and the Laws of Probability.” National Defence (Nov. 1909): 429–38. Print.
Hirst F. W.The Six Panics and Other Essays. London: Methuen, 1913. Print.
A History of the Sudden and Terrible Invasion of England by the French, in the Month of May, 1852. London: T. Bosworth, 1851. Print.
Hynes Samuel. The Edwardian Turn of Mind. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1968. Print.
The Invasion of 1883: A Chapter from the Book of Fate. Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1876. Print.
Lane-Poole Stanley, and Falkner James. “Chesney, Charles Cornwallis (1826–1876).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 11: 325. Print.
Leighton Sir Baldwyn. The Lull before Dorking. London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1871. Print.
Longford Elizabeth. Wellington: Pillar of State. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. Print.
Longmate Norman. Island Fortress: The Defence of Great Britain, 1603–1945. London: Hutchinson, 1991. Print.
M. J. W.The Siege of London: Reminiscences of “Another Volunteer.” London: Robert Hardwicke, 1871. Print.
Matin A. Michael. “‘The Benefit and the Handicap of Hindsight’: Reassessing Future-War Fiction after the 9/11-Induced Shift to a U.S. National Security Strategy of Preemptive Attack and during Anticipations of an Emerging Era of Cyberwars.” Under submission.
Matin A. Michael. “The Creativity of War Planners: Armed Forces Professionals and the Pre-1914 British Invasion-Scare Genre.” Forthcoming in ELH: English Literary History.
[Maude Colonel F. N.]. The New Battle of Dorking. London: Grant Richards, 1900. Print.
[Maude Colonel F. N.] “Notices of Books.” Journal of the Royal United Service Institution 38.199 (Sept. 1894): 1022. Print.
McLynn Frank. Invasion: From the Armada to Hitler, 1588–1945. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987. Print.
Minutes of Proceedings at the Navy League Conference to Consider the Position of This Country If Involved in War with Regard to the Adequacy 1. Of the Navy 2. Of the Food Supply. London: The Navy League; Thursday, 23 June 1898. Print.
Moltruhn Maximilian [pseud.], The Other Side at the Battle of Dorking; or, The Reminiscences of an Invader. London: Whittaker, 1871. Print.
Newton Douglas J.British Labour, European Socialism, and the Struggle for Peace, 1889–1914. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985. Print.
Palliser Major William. The Use of Earthen Fortresses for the Defence of London and as a Preventive against Invasion. London: W. Mitchell, Military Publishers, 1871. Print.
“The Passing of Jorkins.” National Defence (1910): 596–605. Print.
Playne Caroline E.The Pre-War Mind in Britain: An Historical Review. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1928. Print.
“Posteritas” [pseud.]. The Siege of London. London: Wyman & Sons, 1885. Print.
Powell G. H. Introduction. The Battle of Dorking. London: Grant Richards, 1914. Print.
Reiss Tom. “Imagining the Worst: How a Literary Genre Anticipated the Modern World.” New Yorker (28 Nov. 2005): 106–14. Print.
Searle G. R.A New England? Peace and War 1886–1918. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.
Shaw George Bernard. Common Sense about the War. The New York Times History of the European War. New York: The New York Times, 1914. Print.
Snyder Jack. The Ideology of the Offensive: Military Decision Making and the Disasters of 1914. Cornell Studies in Security Affairs. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984. Print.
Stansky Peter. “Harcourt, Sir William George Granville Venables Vernon (1827–1904).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 25: 138–43. Print.
Stearn Roger T.General Sir George Chesney.” Journal of the Society for Army History Research 75 (1997): 106–18. Print.
Stearn Roger T.. “Chesney, Sir George Tomkyns (1830–1895).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 11: 328–31. Print.
The Suggested Invasion of England by the Germans. London: Houlston & Sons, 1871. Print.
Sunstein Cass R.Worst-Case Scenarios. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.
Suskind Ron. The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11. 2006. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. Print.
Taleb Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. New York: Random House, 2007. Print.
Tuchman Barbara W.The Guns of August. 1962. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994. Print.
Vagts Alfred. A History of Militarism: Civilian and Military. 1937. Revised ed. New York: The Free Press, 1959. Print.
Vagts Alfred. “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.
What Happened After the Battle of Dorking. New York: George Routledge & Sons, 1871. Print.
Williams Glyn, and Ramsden John. Ruling Britannia: A Political History of Britain 1688–1988. London: Longman, 1990. Print.
Wingfield-Stratford Esmé. Before the Lamps Went Out. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1945. Print.
“Wyndham's Theatre.” London Times (28 Jan. 1909): 10. Print.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 27 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 205 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.