‘[A] very improbable and imaginative fiction’: fictionalising the French invasion of Fishguard

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Date

13 Nov 2021

Type(s) Oral presentation

Event details

Event TitleImagining History: Wales in Fiction and Fact / Dychmygu Hanes: Cymru mewn Ffuglen a Ffaith<br/>
Duration12 Nov 202113 Nov 2021
LocationOnline conference with an exhibition at Oriel y Bont, Treforest Campus, University of South Wales
CityTreforest
CountryUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
TypeConference

Description

In the years leading up to the centenary of an attempted, but failed invasion of the British mainland by a small contingent of French army, a series of historical novels chronicling the events of February 1797 were published either as novels or in a serialised format, in Welsh and English. To a varying degree, these novels capture the curious events between the landing of the French ships at Pencaer, south of Fishguard, on 22 February 1797 and the official surrender of the troops on Goodwick sands only three days later. Whereas Margaret Ellen James presents a fairly faithful retelling in The Fishguard Invasion by the French in 1797 (1892), the anonymously published Peryglon Pencaer, neu Ffwdan y Ffrancod yn Abergwaun (1894) and Gwyn Meredith’s Gwenny Vaughan, Or The Fishguard Invasion (1896-97) take greater literary license as they weave piracy and smuggling into the historically verified events. What unites these three fictional explorations of this unlikely incident in Fishguard’s history is their astute study of Welsh coastal landscape as frontier that throws a series of national identities into relief at a time when Britain consolidated its territory, at home and abroad, against its largest continental rival, France. While ostensibly set in a historical past, the three novels under observation share significant traits with the popular genre of invasion novels that came to the fore in the second half of the nineteenth century as the British Empire reached its largest extend. This paper will investigate how fictionalised treatments of the failed French invasion of 1797 explore questions not just about nationhood and national territory, but also coloniality and sovereignty against a late-Victorian backdrop of cultural and political revivals in Wales.