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The French are not men

Michael Wood: L’affaire Dreyfus, 7 September 2017

Lettres à la marquise: correspondance inédite avec Marie Arconati Visconti 
by Alfred Dreyfus, edited by Philippe Oriol.
Grasset, 592 pp., £19, March 2017, 978 2 246 85965 9
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... book, published in 1989, on Charles Marie Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, the man who was the spy that Alfred Dreyfus wasn’t. Thomas is thinking of Esterhazy’s acquittal in 1898. Why would a French military tribunal find a guilty man innocent? What was the point of this ‘ritual theatre’, as Frederick Brown calls it in For the Soul of France: Culture ...

La Bête républicaine

Christopher Prendergast, 5 September 1996

The Dreyfus Affair: ‘J’Accuse’ and Other Writings 
by Emile Zola, edited by Alain Pagès, translated by Eleanor Levieux.
Yale, 208 pp., £25, June 1996, 0 300 06689 9
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Zola: A Life 
by Frederick Brown.
Farrar, Straus, 888 pp., £37.50, May 1996, 0 374 29742 8
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... the Germans. The military authorities were baffled as to the source, but suspicion fell on Captain Alfred Dreyfus, at the time serving in a probationary capacity on the General Staff. The ‘bordereau’ was submitted secretly to handwriting experts, the first expressing doubts that it was by Dreyfus, the second ...

Their Affair and Our Affair

R.W. Johnson, 23 April 1987

The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus 
by Jean-Denis Bredin, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman.
Sidgwick, 628 pp., £20, March 1987, 0 283 99443 6
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Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France 
by Zeev Sternhell, translated by David Maisel.
California, 416 pp., £38.25, December 1986, 0 520 05207 2
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... John Weightman, reviewing Jean-Denis Bredin’s monumental work in the Observer, wrote of the Dreyfus Affair that ‘it was perhaps a good thing for France that the abscess burst when it did, because this brought tensions out into the open and revealed the “undeclared civil war” which would need to be resolved in the 20th century ...

A Flat in Neuilly

Douglas Johnson, 3 February 1983

Ideology and Experience: Anti-Semitism in France at the time of the Dreyfus Affair 
by Stephen Wilson.
Associated University Presses, 812 pp., £30, August 1982, 0 8386 3037 5
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Cinq Années de ma Vie 
by Alfred Dreyfus.
Maspéro, 263 pp., frs 15
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La Républic et les Juifs après Copernic 
by Schmuel Trigano.
Les Presses d’Aujourd’hui, 272 pp., frs 75, April 1982, 2 901386 03 2
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... section of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, reading documents which were relevant to the Dreyfus Affair. After I had returned to England I received a letter, sent to my university address, which told me that if, in any forthcoming book on Dreyfus, I wished to avoid the mistakes which had been made by so many ...

Protests with Parasols

Michael Wood: Proust, Dreyfus, Israel, 20 December 2012

Proust among the Nations: From Dreyfus to the Middle East 
by Jacqueline Rose.
Chicago, 239 pp., £22.50, February 2012, 978 0 226 72578 9
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... as we strive, in all kinds of ways, to deny or freeze the mobility of our souls.In her book on the Dreyfus Affair, The Man on Devil’s Island (2010), Ruth Harris insists that no ‘dark teleology’ links the 1890s in France with the years between the two world wars. ‘There is no straight line that can be drawn from the conflicts of the Fin de Siècle to ...

Short Cuts

Chris Lintott: Born in Light, 27 January 2022

... which launches from Kourou in French Guiana. (Devil’s Island, the site of the penal colony where Alfred Dreyfus and many others were held in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is a few miles off the coast.) From ‘Europe’s spaceport’ in South America, rockets are launched east over the Atlantic on a trajectory designed to reduce the risk of ...

‘J’accuse’: Dreyfus in Our Times

Jacqueline Rose: A Lecture, 10 June 2010

... artillery captain, the rising star at the headquarters of the General Staff of the French army, Alfred Dreyfus. To put it simply, Dreyfus had been framed. In 1894, he was court-martialled, convicted of treason and then in 1895 deported to Devil’s Island, the tiniest of three tiny Iles du Salut, or Salvation ...


R.W. Johnson, 20 June 1985

Pierre Mendès France 
by Jean Lacouture, translated by George Holoch.
Holmes & Meier, 486 pp., $34.50, December 1984, 0 8419 0856 7
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... The great affair of his father’s life – a prosperous textile merchant – was, inevitably, Dreyfus. Mendès père, a secular, radical republican, rallied to Dreyfus as a passionate democrat more than a Jew and, as a furious anti-Prussian, had the honour to serve in the First World War under ... Colonel ...

All the world’s a spy novel

Michael Wood: What Didn’t Happen, 30 July 2020

Counterfactuals: Paths of the Might Have Been 
by Christopher Prendergast.
Bloomsbury, 257 pp., £19.99, February 2019, 978 1 350 09009 5
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Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction 
by Catherine Gallagher.
Chicago, 359 pp., £26.50, January 2018, 978 0 226 51241 9
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... On this model, and on our topic, we might say something like: Suppose some time between 1895 (when Alfred Dreyfus was sent to Devil’s Island) and 1919 (the date of the Treaty of Versailles) – or if you prefer, between 1908 (the date of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday) and 1915 (the date of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps) – the world ...

How to Be a Knight

Diarmaid MacCulloch: William Marshal, 21 May 2015

The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power behind Five English Thrones 
by Thomas Asbridge.
Simon and Schuster, 444 pp., £20, January 2015, 978 0 7432 6862 2
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... is best in academic rigour; he later helped analyse the documents which led to the acquittal of Alfred Dreyfus. The History of William Marshal contains nearly twenty thousand lines of Norman-French verse, around which Meyer constructed three volumes of commentary, heroically shaping the task, which Asbridge has continued, of deconstructing an exercise ...

Proust and His Mother

Michael Wood, 22 March 2012

... defeat and French responses to it – including the modernisation of the army in which the Jewish Alfred Dreyfus could become an officer. Jeanne was pregnant during the Commune, a time of harsh repression of a chaotic popular movement, where burning buildings could be seen almost everywhere in Paris. Marcel Proust was born in 1871, his brother Robert two ...

Communiste et Rastignac

Christopher Caldwell: Bernard Kouchner, 9 July 2009

Le Monde selon K. 
by Pierre Péan.
Fayard, 331 pp., €19, February 2009, 978 2 213 64372 4
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... cosmopolitanism’ the same thing as the cosmopolitanism invoked by the enemies of Alfred Dreyfus? Péan asked in Libération what ‘sans frontières’ could possibly mean if not ‘cosmopolitan’. He also cited a 1985 article that Lévy had co-signed with two other intellectuals, in which the three declared: ‘Of course, we are ...

Heil Heidegger

J.P. Stern, 20 April 1989

Martin Heidegger: Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie 
by Hugo Ott.
Campus Verlag, 355 pp., DM 48, December 1988, 3 593 34035 6
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... also ran into intrigues from ‘philosophers of Being’ in the government office presided over by Alfred Rosenberg, author of The Myth of the 20th Century. They launched an attack on him in the Party press, which included the claim that he was ‘the leader of a Jewish clique’. This of course was malicious nonsense. In fact, as Ott points out, Heidegger’s ...

Counting their rosaries

Douglas Johnson, 14 May 1992

Paul Touvier et l’église 
by René Rémond.
Fayard, 417 pp., frs 130, February 1992, 9782213028804
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... resonance, because Basch was president of the League of the Rights of Man, a former supporter of Dreyfus as well as a close collaborator of Léon Blum and a Freemason. The bodies were discovered in a quarry, with a piece of paper attached to them on which was written: ‘Terror against terror. The Jew always pays ... Down with de Gaulle.’ There was some ...

Summarising Oneself

Julian Barnes: Degas’s Vanity, 19 November 2020

The Letters of Edgar Degas 
edited by Theodore Reff.
Wildenstein Plattner Institute, 1464 pp., £150, June, 978 0 9988175 1 4
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... not only was Tissot the more successful, but so were two of Degas’s other painter-friends, Alfred Stevens and Giuseppe de Nittis. There was also the case of Giovanni Boldini, who had first made his name as a portrait painter in London before moving to Paris in 1871. Stevens’s fame was based equally in Brussels and Paris, and perhaps bi-location would ...

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