Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 323–355 | Cite as

Building Aerial Empires: technology and geopolitics in American and British juvenalia through the 1930s

  • Peter J. HugillEmail author


In the later 1800s a new form of popular literature, juvenalia, emerged to cater to children as programmes of universal literacy were put in place throughout the industrialised world. This had its greatest impact on the transatlantic English-speaking world. British writers such as G. A. Henty romanticised views of life on the imperial frontier and became massively popular in America. By 1900 American juvenalia was beginning to favour imperial world views, in particular in many of the several thousand titles published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Such juvenalia ‘educated’ teenagers, boys especially, in their responsibilities to their society and persuaded American boys to support imperialism, in particular by focusing on the exciting role of new technologies in militarism. Victorian and Edwardian juvenalia are filled with optimism and such new technologies as airplanes and submersibles were seen as the solution to many geopolitical problems. Such optimism faded with the appalling experiences of World War I. In the 1920s Hollywood movies such as Wings and Hells’s Angels began to romanticise such air combat. In Britain Captain W. E. Johns responded negatively. Johns’ view of the technologies, expressed through the experiences of his main character, Biggles, and based on his own air combat experience in the war, was realistic and well aware of their deadly nature. The Biggles novels also clearly encouraged air policing of the Empire. American pulp magazines and novels continued to romanticise air war but by the early 1930s they had exhausted wartime topics and began to focus on the building Japanese threat. As an American ‘Empire’ developed in the period between World Wars I and II it focused heavily on the Pacific and the growth of American geopolitical interests there. L. Ron Hubbard’s many novels of aerial warfare are about America’s need to support China against Japanese aggression. Both British and American juvenalia culturally conditioned their country’s young males to fight what both authors clearly saw would be the next aerial war.


Juvenalia geopolitics technology air policing imperialism Johns Hubbard 


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    Anthony Hope’s Zenda of 1894 was a massive success as an ‘imperial romance’ with both teenagers and adults and was turned into a play in 1896. The silent film version was issued in 1922 to very favorable reviews, the first sound version in 1937, and a second in 1952. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who played Rupert of Hentzau in 1937, initially wanted to play the hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, a role that went to Ronald Colman, but his father told him ‘not only is The Prisoner of Zenda one of the best romances written in a hundred years and always a success, but Rupert of Hentzau is probably one of the best villains ever written’. Douglas Fairbanks, Salad Days (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 275.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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