- Gothic Invasions: Imperialism, War, and Fin-de-Siècle Popular Fiction by Ailise Bulfin
In her first monograph and latest contribution to the field of invasion studies, Ailise Bulfin asks: What do tales of stalking vampires, restless Egyptian mummies, foreign master criminals, barbarian Eastern hordes, and stomping Prussian soldiers have in common? The chief answer is that this rogues’ gallery of literary and pop culture monsters reflects British society’s fear of invasion and subversion by foreign powers or peoples and the degeneration that would either enable or result from such an invasion.
This is not something new, of course, as Bulfin is acutely aware. For most of her academic career, she has been a principal member of the Invasion Network. An international research group focused on the phenomenon of invasion fiction and popular culture in Britain and beyond, the network draws together scholars from Europe, North America, Austral-asia, and elsewhere and encompasses all manner of disciplines. Bulfin and the network, in particular Harry Wood, Michael Matin, and Kim Wagner, have produced a growing body of scholarship that advances the field pioneered by I. F. Clarke with Voices Prophesying War, 1763–1984 (1966). As a leader in her own scholarly context, therefore, Bulfin is well-qualified to take the analysis of invasion fiction much further and does so admirably. Taking a British as well as a more global perspective and cutting across different genres, she demonstrates how gender and social anxieties and geopolitical fears of invasion could be deployed by different political persuasions for different purposes.
Bulfin examines the better-known canon of British authors, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, and Rudyard Kipling, as well as those who were popular in their day but have not fared as well given the condescension of history or literary criticism. These include the Australian-born Guy Boothby, the enigmatic William Le Queux, and the early science fiction master M. P. Shiel. Although these authors are referenced throughout Bulfin’s study, each makes a particular thematic subgenre their own. Kipling is prominent in the first chapter, “Gothic Invasions from the East and West Indies.” Boothby is important for chapter two, “Gothic Invasions from Egypt,” and, along with Shiel, chapter four, “Yellow Peril Fiction.” Doyle’s work underpins Bulfin’s third chapter, “Mephistophelean Master Criminals,” and Le Queux is central to the fifth chapter, “Military Invasion Tales.”
Gothic Invasions is forensic in its analysis of the different monsters that populate the chapters. Bulfin covers well-trodden ground around the origins [End Page 637] of the Dracula story and offers more revealing insight into the literary origins of the mummy, Fu Manchu figures, and Horrible Huns. Bulfin’s readable, enjoyable prose makes Gothic Invasions an approachable book for scholars from all manner of disciplines and at all levels of sophistication—by no means an easy accomplishment.
For scholars of Victorian periodicals, Bulfin’s research points to new directions of inquiry. Drawing upon a host of well-known and little-known magazines and papers, she analyzes published versions of many invasion stories in their original serialized or periodical form alongside their appearance as books. Going beyond the periodicals of metropolitan London (albeit a major focus of Gothic Invasions), Bulfin includes references to tales first appearing in regional organs, such as Carlton Dawe’s “The Yellow Man,” which appeared in the Derby Mercury between May and October 1900. The “host of obscure periodical stories” Bulfin has uncovered makes this volume a definite addition to our knowledge of the broader culture of serialized writing (63). She also demonstrates how periodicals influenced such stories, with the Spectator and Windsor Magazine engaging invasion tropes and Academy and Punch featuring comic lampoons of the invasion fiction boom. Both serious and humorous representations indicate the pervasiveness of such fears in the minds of nineteenth-century Britons.
The expansion of the periodical market itself, Bulfin reminds us, was in part responsible for the flood of invasion fiction in the latter part of the nineteenth century. In turn, such stories helped sustain periodicals...