The Channel Tunnel; or, England’s Ruin : A Study of its Techniques of Persuasion <Article>
It has been said that the sub-genre of Science Fiction called Invasion Literature was popular from 1871 through the outbreak of World War I in Britain. However, from 1872 to 1881, there was a significant decline in this trend. During these ten years, fewer than ten titles were published while more than 20 stories had appeared in 1871, and the stories in that decade have been almost completely ignored by the scholars of this genre. This history might imply the fruitlessness of studying Invasion Literature in that era; however, in order to clarify how the genre had developed, breaking this tradition might yield some fruitful results.
One of these stories is The Channel Tunnel; or, England’s ruin (1876) written by an anonymous author using a pseudonym, Cassandra. In the story, a German Emperor cunningly plans an invasion of France and England in 1885, and implements the plan accordingly. The war between Germany and France is a synonym of the actual war, the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and after defeating France, the Emperor encourages his subjects to travel to England through newly constructed submarine tunnel under the English Channel. When the number of the German travelers is at its highest, England is led to declare war against Germany. The war only lasts about a month; England is quickly defeated and consents to paying an incredibly high indemnity.
This story can be regarded as a propagandistic work advocating the reinforcement of national defence, and therefore the increase of the military budget. While the author describes the unstoppable enemy forces proceeding to London, he also tells how the English “Economical Government” has made the English army too weak for the demands it might face. The author does not tell the readers what to do clearly; instead of this, he shows them what to think about. The characteristics of the persuasive techniques of this story can be summarized as the selected agenda settings, the limited time setting, and the description of situations arousing fear or anger.
This tale contains carefully calculated layers of propagandistic methods. However, it failed to draw public attention. The main reason probably lies in its illogical plot in which ambitious Germany deceives surrounding nations including England, and the Germans successfully land on English soil without any hindrance. However, in contrast with the case of The Battle of Dorking (1871), it might have been impossible for an anonymous author to influence the reading public with an invasion story when there was no public mood of alarm to employ.
Although this tale was commercially unsuccessful, it is the earliest example of Invasion Literature that employs the idea of the Channel Tunnel. In 1882, when an actual (though never completed) tunnel under the English Channel was being constructed, more than 600 English public figures, including Lord Alfred Tennyson, signed a petition opposing the construction, in response to the campaign started by a leading journal, The Nineteenth Century. Accordingly, it became highly popular to write invasion stories using the Channel Tunnel as a gateway for invading forces. When The Channel Tunnel was published, the English held somewhat neutral opinions about the tunnel, and this was also true of the Pall Mall Gazette, which the author, Cassandra, expressed high regard for in the story. In that moderate public mood, the alarming story of The Channel Tunnel had appeared, including some remarkably original features. Perhaps, it was published too early.
Apart from that theme, The Channel Tunnel also contains an important device; foreign travellers in England turn out to be enemy soldiers or able assistants of an invading force. In the 1890s and the early 20th century, the foreigners in England as a national threat became a typical scenario in Invasion Literature. The most eminent writer using this theme is William Le Queux. He even encouraged the public to report to him if they saw a suspicious foreigner in England by promising them a monetary reward. Hence, The Channel Tunnel, even though a minor work of Invasion Literature, pioneers the use of two important themes.