Merrick, Burrow (2016) ‘The future of our delicate network of empire’: The Riddle of the Sands and the Birth of the British Spy Thriller. In: New Directions in Popular Fiction: Genre, Distribution, Reproduction. Merrick Burrow . Palgrave, London, pp. 111-133. ISBN 978-1-137-52346-4

When The Riddle of the Sands was published in 1903 it was quick to attract attention. Its plot, concerning a German conspiracy to invade Britain, has been credited by cultural historians with contributing significantly to a public ‘invasion mania’ in the years leading up to the First World War, which in turn fed the popular appetite for more spy thrillers, breathing life into the fledgling genre. Such assessments of the novel’s influence have tended to focus upon the authenticity of the invasion plot, the history of its subsequent reception and Childers’ presumed sympathy with the militarist opinions of Arthur H. Davies, one of the central protagonists. Connected to this is a common view of The Riddle of the Sands as belonging to a right-wing movement that sought to bolster British imperialism through calls for naval rearmament and the establishment of a secret service. The Riddle of the Sands certainly creates a space for the articulation of such arguments, which Davies does indeed deliver in declamatory fashion. But to identify the overall political sensibility of the novel with such demagoguery is only sustainable if one disregards the ways in which it is mediated by the literary form and tone of narration.

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