William Le Queux Essay - Critical Essays


William Le Queux’s first novel, Guilty Bonds, dramatized the political conflicts in prerevolutionary Russia, but more important it marked the beginning of his professional writing career. He began his career as a novelist in earnest with the publication of The Great War in England in 1897 (1894). The first of many novels detailing the threat of military invasion to Great Britain, the novel portrays the menace posed by a Franco-Russian alliance. Five years later, Le Queux wrote England’s Peril, in which a member of Parliament is betrayed and ruthlessly murdered by his wife, who is having an affair with the head of the French secret service.

Although Le Queux was of French parentage, he had become the quintessential Englishman—more English than his fellow citizens. He summarily dismissed the importance of Anglo-French political cooperation and friendship, sharing the popular belief that France was Great Britain’s enemy on the Continent. As a result, Le Queux’s warnings that England was not prepared to withstand an invasion from the Continent influenced spy fiction more than did the writings of many other authors during the same period. Although his novels were not of the same literary quality as those of Erskine Childers because they were overwrought and highly melodramatic, they were nevertheless very popular. Le Queux had a journalist’s sense of the topical, which, when combined with his talent for sensationalism, made his novels compelling reading. With a vast readership and numerous supporters, he soon became a widely admired and often-imitated novelist.

After further travels throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, Le Queux became convinced that the threat to England’s security was not France but Germany. The first of his anti-German books, The Invasion of 1910: With a Full Account of the Siege of London (1906), singled out Germany as Great Britain’s probable future enemy. The novel The Mystery of a Motor-Car (1906) quickly followed, and Le Queux intentionally began using his espionage novels as propaganda instruments. In this story, a country doctor finds himself involved in a German plot against England when he treats the victim of an automobile accident.

Spies of the Kaiser

Le Queux soon found several senior officers in the British army who shared his views on Germany’s growing military might. The most important of these men was Field Marshall Lord Roberts, a supporter of conscription. In Spies of the Kaiser (1909), Le Queux warned that England was in imminent danger of an invasion by Germany and that thousands of German spies were living in Great Britain and gathering information on important individuals, shipyards, factories, arsenals, and the country’s overall military preparedness.

The German Spy

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