'J'accuse ... !': Cartoons of the Dreyfus Affair: Mark Bryant Looks at the Way Caricaturists Viewed the Scandal Engulfing France at the End of the 19th Century
Bryant, Mark, History Today
THE TRIAL Or CAPTAIN DREYFUS of the French Army was a major cause celebre at the end of the nineteenth century, pitting the Catholic church, royalists and the military against republicans, radicals and socialists. Not only did it generate a huge amount of column inches in the press, both in France and overseas, but it also led to hundreds of cartoons and caricatures of the leading figures in the case. The worlds of art and literature, like the general public at large, were fiercely partisan in their views on the alleged German spy, and the debate involved such figures as Zola, Proust, Anatole France, Renoir, Cezanne and Monet. Former friends Degas and Pissarro fell out over the case, composer Edvard Grieg refused to tour France, and such was the public interest that posters, toys, ladies' fans, board games and even cigarette-paper packets featured drawings of Dreyfus and others connected with the affair. In addition the fact that Dreyfus was Jewish led to virulent cartoons that would not have looked out of place in the pages of the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer fifty years later.
Put briefly, L'Affaire, as it came to be known, began in 1893 when a French spy working as a cleaner in the offices of the German embassy in Paris discovered, in the wastepaper basket of the German military attache, an anonymous bordereau (an official French Army memorandum) containing French artillery secrets. It appeared to be in the handwriting of Alfred Dreyfus, a twenty-five-year-old French artillery captain, who claimed that it was a forgery. None the less, at his court martial in 1894 Dreyfus was convicted of treason, stripped of his rank in a humiliating public 'degradation' ceremony and deported to serve a life sentence in the notorious Devil's Island penal colony in French Guiana off the north-east coast of South America.
Nationalist and anti-Jewish factions made much of the fact that Dreyfus was not only Jewish but also from Alsace, which had been seized by Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. As a result large numbers of French Alsatian Jews had fled westwards into Paris, leading to increased anti-Semitism in the city. The Dreyfus conviction unleashed a mass of suppressed nationalist and anti-Jewish feeling and many French cartoons and caricatures of this period fanned the flames of prejudice.
Two years after the trial, the head of French Intelligence, Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart, discovered that the bordereau was indeed a forgery, produced by a real spy, Major Esterhazy, an infantry officer. However, the French general staff refused to believe this and Esterhazy was acquitted. Outraged at the cover-up, the celebrated French novelist Emile Zola wrote a famous open letter to Felix Faure, then the President of France. Entitled 'J'Accuse ...!' ('I accuse ...'), it was published on January 13th, 1898 over the entire front page of the daily newspaper L'Aurore (founded in 1897 by the future French prime minister and Great War leader George Clemenceau). The letter, which consisted of many paragraphs against individuals beginning 'J'Accuse ...', accused the civil and military authorities of lying and caused a huge controversy--300,000 copies of the paper sold that day and it led to Zola's own conviction for libel (he escaped I to England to avoid imprisonment).
After Zola's intervention, and the suicide of Colonel Henry of French Military Intelligence who admitted to having fabricated additional evidence against Dreyfus, there was a retrial in 1899. …
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Publication information: Article title: 'J'accuse ... !': Cartoons of the Dreyfus Affair: Mark Bryant Looks at the Way Caricaturists Viewed the Scandal Engulfing France at the End of the 19th Century. Contributors: Bryant, Mark - Author. Magazine title: History Today. Volume: 57. Issue: 9 Publication date: September 2007. Page number: 60+. © 2009 History Today Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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