Battle of Dorking

Tagged: Theme

Probably the most important and influential of early Future War stories, George T Chesney's anonymously published novella The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (May 1871 Blackwood's Magazine; 1871 chap) conveyed a dire warning against British jingoist complacency with its depiction of a surprise Invasion by an unnamed country (ie Germany) whose secret Weapons or "fatal engines" quickly eliminate the Royal Navy, allowing a landing in force which leads to British defeat in the titular battle at Dorking, Surrey, and the dismantling of the Empire. At the time of writing there were fears of worsening European instability in the context of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, which ended with German victory in the month of the story's appearance: May 1871. The Battle of Dorking had been preceded, though ineffectually, by Alfred Bate Richards's privately published The Invasion of England (A Possible Tale of Future Times) (1870 chap).

A measure of the Chesney story's influence is the number of works published in reaction to it, many in the same year. These often reject or water down the minatory worst-case scenario and steer events to some happier conclusion, as in The Battle of Dorking, a Myth: England Impregnable: Invasion Impossible; Or, the Events That Occurred in AD 1871, AD 1921, AD 1971, AD 2000 (1871 chap) by Anonymous (which see for other anonymous responses); The Prophetic Future of the Empire of Great Britain: Dedicated to her Royal and Imperial Majesty the Queen (1871 chap) by Isaac Fowler Ballard; The Second Armada: A Chapter of Future History (22 June 1871 The London Times; 1871 chap) by Abraham Hayward anonymously; The Siege of London: Reminiscences of "Another Volunteer" (1871 chap) by J W M; The Cruise of the Anti-Torpedo (1871 chap) by James Payn anonymously; and What Happened After the Battle of Dorking; Or, the Victory of Tunbridge Wells (1871 chap) by John Charles Stone anonymously.

Further 1871 riffs on the Battle of Dorking theme include The Battle of Foxhill, the Prince of Wales in a Mess (1871 chap) by Captain Pipeclay, a Satire on current Politics; The Commune in London, or Thirty Years Hence: A Chapter of Anticipated History (1871 chap) by Bracebridge Hemyng; Chapters from Future History: The Battle of Berlin (Die Schlacht von Königsberg) (dated 1890 but 1871 chap) by Motly Ranke McCauley, in which the tables are turned and it is Germany that suffers the invasion; The Other Side at the Battle of Dorking (1871 chap) by Maximilian Moltruhn, retelling the original tale of British defeat from a German viewpoint; and "Sendschreiben des deutsch-englischen Zukunfspolitiker" (1871 Außerordentliche Beilage zur Allgemeinen Zeitung; trans anon as Forewarned! Forearmed!: The Suggested Invasion of England by the Germans 1871 chap) by J M Trutz-Baumwoll.

Naturally a few writers rather enjoyed the prospect of Britain's downfall, such as Matthew Stradling of Ireland with "Cheap John's" Auction: A Narrative in Three Parts (1871 chap) and Camille Debans of France with Les Malheurs de John Bull (1884; trans as John Bull's Downfall 1884; vt John Bull's Misfortunes 1884). The added sf twist of French rather than German invasion via a proposed Channel Tunnel is central to The Battle of Boulogne: Or How Calais Became English Again: Another Version of the Channel Tunnel Affair (1882 chap) by The Demure One, How John Bull Lost London, or The Capture of the Channel Tunnel (1882) by Grip and Capture of London (1887 chap) by James Peddie.

Later echoes of Chesney's original warning include How the Germans Took London: Forewarned, Forearmed (1900 chap) by T W Offin; The North Sea Bubble: A Fantasia (1906) by Ernest Oldmeadow; The Swoop! or How Clarence Saved England: A Tale of the Great Invasion (1909) by P G Wodehouse, broadly spoofing the by then well-established Dorking/Invasion subgenre; Great Was the Fall (1912) by A Naval Officer, published shortly before World War One; and Attack on America (1939) by Ared White, which on the brink of World War Two transposed the imagined Invasion and warning to the USA.

Before the turn of the twentieth century, H G Wells had effectively exploited the power of The Battle of Dorking's then-unthinkable scenario of foreign military intrusion in the Home Counties with The War of the Worlds (1898), in which Martian war machines ravage Woking, Surrey (where the book was written). [DRL]

see also: Decadence; Futures Studies.

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