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J'accuse, Zola And The Dreyfus Affair

1852 words - 8 pages

In 1894, a Jewish artillery officer in the French army named Captain Alfred Dreyfus was arrested and charged with supplying the German Embassy in Paris with military secrets. After a private trial in which only the military were involved Dreyfus was convicted of treason and was consequently imprisoned on Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guyana.

From the outset the case was full of ambiguities and unanswered questions. The evidence used to convict Dreyfus was dubious and the lack of concrete evidence provoked his brother Mathieu to start a campaign to prove Alfred’s innocence. The army had wanted to keep the trial out of the public sphere and deal with it as swiftly as possible but ...view middle of the document...

The extreme opposition of the two camps was so significant at this time due to that fact that this was a very turbulent period in the history of France in which public opinion was dramatically divided. In general, the Dreyfusards had strong republican values and believed that Dreyfus was entitled to a fair and public trial. The anti-Dreyfusards however were anti-republican and often strict Catholics. They tended to have notions of an exclusivity of the French people, meaning that Jews were seen as intruders and unwelcome in society. The anti-Dreyfusards believed that the honour of the French army was more important than an individual’s liberty. Until the end of the affair in 1906, opinions would remain bitterly opposed with both camps fighting an ideological battle.

The disparity in public opinion was reflected in, but also promoted and provoked by the daily press. The press was essential in the Dreyfus Affair to stir up public opinion and to encourage people to act, and newspapers from all positions on the political spectrum used the media to convey their various messages. People coming from all levels of society read the daily newspapers in France and they were so important to the transmission of information as it was the only medium available at that time which had the ability to reach such a large proportion of the population. In the first few years after the start of the ‘affair’ there was a general lack of support for Dreyfus in the press, with the majority of newspapers publishing anti-Semitic articles in reaction to what they thought was treason committed by a French Jew. To support their arguments, the newspapers would use cartoons to convey ideas and attract readers. A notorious anti-Semitic cartoonist called Caran d’Ache was one of the most prominent ‘dessinateurs’ of the time and many of his cartoons implied the guilt of Dreyfus and promoted anti-Jewish sentiment. It would take time and support from prominent figures in society before the press would start showing much support for the Dreyfus case.

It was not only the press that played an important role in the Dreyfus Affair, but also the involvement of a number of high profile figures in French society. One of the most well-known Dreyfusards was Bernard Lazare, a writer and journalist who had carried out work on anti-Semitism. In an attempt to prove the innocence of Dreyfus, Lazare completed a brochure examining the anti-Semitic undertone to the affair and detailing the obvious injustices and faults of the Dreyfus trial. In 1896 the work was published under the title "A Miscarriage of Justice - The truth about the Dreyfus Affair." The publication of the work triggered a wave of anti-Semitism across France as people reacted angrily to Lazare’s accusations. The impact of Lazare’s work seems to suggest that the participation of the press had great significance during the affair in involving people and provoking the public to react. Lazare continually worked to gain the support of...

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