PRISONERS OF HONOR: The Dreyfus Affair by David L. Lewis

PRISONERS OF HONOR: The Dreyfus Affair

Email this review


This is the first full-length account of the Dreyfus Affair to appear in a number of years and even though Lewis speaks of contemporary parallels in the most muted of tones, Watergate aficionados will hardly miss the point. For the family of Alfred Dreyfus -- the stiffnecked, upright Jewish officer wrongly accused of treason -- the case was a personal tragedy. Lewis writes movingly of their ordeal making use of Dreyfus' own desperate letters from Devil's Island and other family records. Nonetheless, Dreyfus the man doesn't fit the heroic mold and fortunately Lewis doesn't try to enlarge him beyond simply rendering the pitiable anguish he endured. It is the Affair which continues to fascinate in a way that the personal drama does not. As Lewis resolutely picks his way through the labyrinthian details of forgeries, charges and counter-charges, investigations and cover-ups it becomes evident that, anti-Semitism apart, it was the fear of a terrible government scandal detrimental to ""national security"" which kept Dreyfus languishing on Devil's Island. Within the highest ranks of the Army, generals, war ministers, and counterintelligence chiefs quaked at the prospect of opening a can of worms which would discredit men in high places. Many were willing privately to admit Dreyfus' probable innocence -- a judicial error they reasoned was unfortunate but it was nothing to the shock and shame the country would suffer were that citadel of incorruptibility, the French Army, besmirched. Lewis draws full portraits of the combatants from the picaresque Count Esterhazy (the real traitor) to Jaures, Zola, Clemenceau, Picquart, La Libre Parole, etc. He conveys, perhaps not as theatrically as Barbara Tuchman (see her Proud Tower), the hysteria unleashed in courtroom, salon and street and the frightening polarization of France between Dreyfusard and anti-Dreyfusard. It's a story full of sound and fury signifying much.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1973
Publisher: Morrow