November 25, 2012 at 8:28 pm #199024Weird JimParticipant
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Linda Adams posted a request for a book on writing suitable for a twelve year old girl who wants to write, and I remembered a good book called, I think, Plotting. I decided to run the title through Amazon. Things happen when you’re searching, and right before my eyes was a title, Spies of the Kaiser: Plotting against England that I thought might come in handy for something I was planning. EEK! $53.95 It was written a long time ago, so, as I’ve put in the subject line, I checked Gutenberg. Yes it was there and a copy is now on my computer. To be fair, the Amazon version is an edited one published in 1996. It was worth checking.November 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm #208987
Project Gutenberg is a great resource. And since the books are all either out of copyright – or in some cases, donated by their authors – I don’t hesitate to use it. For some of the writing I do, those older books are actually a lot more useful than much of what I can find currently available. (You can’t really understand the mindset of a time unless you read words written in that time – later works just aren’t the same.)
Now, on the other hand, I will point out a book like this is probably not a perfect resource for information on spying. At least, considering some World War One “secrets” were only declassified in this century, I can’t imagine such a book would give you a good idea of everything that was actually known about the Kaiser’s spy networks (and it may be no one in Britain, even the intelligence professionals, knew everything at that point, since that’s the whole purpose of espionage, to hide things from the other side while discovering their secrets). But, if you want to know what the public knew (or believed, or thought they knew) about German spies, then this one would be a great source.
I’ve seen academics who will deny this or that contemporary attitude because “we know that just wasn’t the case” – well, we may know what the Kaiser’s spies were really doing, at least up to a point, but that does not mean the public at the time knew all of what we know. Which is an important point to keep in mind when writing historical fiction. There is what we know was actually happening – and there is what the public believed was happening. I have an example in my own family history, one with three layers: reality, public belief – and my own struggle to understand what happened since I was interpreting the story based on modern assumptions. And that one was only from World War Two. So books like this can be a great aid to understanding how people thought – and they’re actually more useful when they haven’t been “helpfully” edited, as editing can often remove important points. (Just imagine an editor who knows some turgid passage is based on wild speculation. I suppose they’d have a point in cutting it – but then, you’d miss the clue that this speculation was something the public at the time believed.)
I’m off to grab my own copy of that book, in fact. No current use, but its the kind of thing I know I’ll want to consult sooner or later.November 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm #208988
Ah. Seems it’s fiction. Still interesting, as an idea of what the popular idea of German spies was. And even more interesting, because the author seems to have written several alternate histories, the two I noticed being versions of two invasions of England that, of course, never happened. (1897, by France and Russia, and 1910, by Germany).November 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm #209016Weird JimParticipant
Wandering Author wrote:Ah. Seems it’s fiction. Still interesting, as an idea of what the popular idea of German spies was. And even more interesting, because the author seems to have written several alternate histories, the two I noticed being versions of two invasions of England that, of course, never happened. (1897, by France and Russia, and 1910, by Germany).
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Yes! I found that out. The first chapters didn’t impress me. I didn’t notice the invasion books of his. Interesting about France and Russia invading as memeory seems to tell me that Britain’s involvement in The Great War came about because of defence treaties with those two countries.November 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm #209019
I’m not sure he’s a very good writer (to be honest, he’s terrible, although his later books do show a limited improvement – and we should remember the style of the day was very different, and one only a master could pull off well at all) – but he is an interesting source nevertheless. In at least some cases, it seems he served as an unofficial conduit for highly placed officials within the British military who felt Britain was not well prepared for any conflict which might break out. (This all occurs, of course, against the backdrop of the “arms race” of that day.) Some of his books included semi-official endorsements of his opinions.
And the very notion of someone writing fiction in order to alarm the public and thus encourage increased spending on weapons and so on makes for an intriguing story idea. (I know this is done now, but I had no idea it had been done at this date, or so openly. He makes no attempt to hide his purpose, in fact he states it very openly.)
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