HENRI ROCHEFORT: Prince of the Gutter Press by Roger L. Williams

HENRI ROCHEFORT: Prince of the Gutter Press

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This is a well-documented biography, much of it taken from police archives, of the Parisian scoundrel firebrand Henri Rochefort, a writer-publisher-politician whose wit and bile flourished in the second half of the 19th century. Biographer Williams pads his earlier chapters, where information on Rochefort is sketchy, with a surfeit of political background scholarship. About halfway, the anecdotes really begin to flow. Rochefort had some pretensions to aristocracy but usually served the Left. He was often in office and twice exiled for political crimes. His constant targets were the reactionaries and opportunists, although he himself was an utter opportunist of a most amusing stripe. After his second exile, he found that the greatest notoriety and sales were in supporting the less powerful faction because the ruling faction always had larger figures to hit with mud and malice. A frail adventurer and patriot with a nervous stomach, he was involved in the Paris Commune uprising, the Boulanger scandal and, most famous of all, the Dreyfus affair. He was a violent anti-Dreyfusard, a zealous anti-Semite, and to his dying day he believed that Dreyfus was guilty despite his pardon. Rochefort lived rather highly, but this aspect of his life is not given much space. He had three children born of a mistress who appalled him, although he married her on her deathbed while he was still in prison. Rochefort lived into his eighties, always against rather than for, and never happier than when violating the Christian church. A scholarly portrait.

Publisher: Scribners