From Publishers Weekly
Harris (Lourdes) revisits that notorious miscarriage of justice, the Dreyfus affair. Alfred Dreyfus, a dedicated Jewish French army captain was convicted of spying for Germany based on flimsy and fabricated evidence, and sentenced in 1895 to life on remote Devil's Island. Utilizing private correspondence and archives, Harris trains her gaze on several key players: Lucie Dreyfus, who changed from modest wife and devoted mother into an unremitting fighter for her husband's release; Dreyfus's chief polemicist, EÌümile Zola, charged with libel for his confrontational writings during the affair, was equally reckless (in Harris's word), creating a secret, second family with his maid; and Col. Georges Picquart, who while in charge of the Dreyfus investigation, discovered the real culprit. Despite his dislike of Jews, Picquart defied his superiors to free Dreyfus; for his efforts, he was himself imprisoned on trumped-up charges. While detailing how many on the political and religious right embraced anti-Semitism as a nationalist unifying passion, Harris also demonstrates that the Dreyfusards were flawed men and women who often overcame prejudices and fears to battle the conspirators against Dreyfus. This well-researched, and nuanced book is an engrossing account, the second this year after Frederick Brown's For the Soul of France. 68 b&w illus.
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It is just over a century since the final exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus, after “L'affaire Dreyfus” convulsed France for a dozen years. Yet historical analysis and re-examination continues. Of course, no serious historians question Dreyfus' innocence, but the significance of various elements of the affair remains fertile ground for historical debate. Oxford fellow Harris' recounting of the case from inception to conclusion is comprehensive and offers some original and provocative insights. The conventional view that the affair pitted assorted reactionaries and anti-Semites against a coalition of liberals and progressives is rejected as simplistic. Rather, both the defenders and attackers of Dreyfus were motivated by a complex series of emotions and political stances, including nationalism, religion, republicanism, and nostalgia for a France that never existed. Much like the Rosenberg case in the U.S., the guilt or innocence of Dreyfus became almost irrelevant to the causes he symbolized. This is a well-written and well-researched analysis of a great miscarriage of justice. --Jay Freeman