THE AFFAIR: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus by Jean-Denis Bredin

THE AFFAIR: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus

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An absorbing review of the Dreyfus trial and the massive, interlocking scandals it birthed; a model of clear style and exposition, translated from the French by Jeffrey Mehlman. Aside from being an incredible miscarriage of justice, the Dreyfus case brought-French anti-Semitism to a blistering boil and resulted in some very far-reaching reforms: the separation of church and state (the state would no longer pay the clergy's salaries) and, in a wave of anticlericalism, the closing of some 3,000 unauthorized schools; it unified the widely divided Socialists within the framework of the Republic and polarized the intellectuals; it gave the government power to dissolve many religious orders and state authority over the rest; and it gave the French press its first real voice. On the nasty side, it, also gave birth to French fascism among diehard anti-Dreyfusards, who eventually formed the Vichy regime after the fall of France in WW II. Captain Alfred Dreyfus was a Jew who did well in the Army (almost entirely Catholic) until he was accused in 1894 of selling French secrets to the Germans. Two things against him were his birth in Alsace (a province reclaimed by Germany), and his religion; as a Jew, he was defenseless against the anti-Semitic press rising in a flood against him. At first, his handwriting appeared strikingly identical with that on the list of French military documents recovered from the Germans--though it turned out to be the uniform handwriting taught to all French students. Even so, Dreyfus was railroaded through a mockery of a court-martial, humiliated by being stripped of his rank in public, and condemned to Devil's Island in Guiana, where his health broke permanently. His case stretched over 12 years before he was reinstated. Meanwhile, evidence was proved to be forged, there was a suicide, reputations were shattered, and all France was convulsed. This may well be the definitive Dreyfus recap of our time. Bredin parades no new material but does give a fresh glow to the villains and anti-Semites. It is harder work to bring out big waves of reader sympathy for the formal Dreyfus, ever the patriot though standing in his own grave on Devil's Island.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Braziller