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Memories of the affair

Memories of the affair

Novelists' descriptions

The Dreyfus Affair was quickly taken up by writers, and particularly by Dreyfusards. Anatole France, who was convinced that "the Affair was a small matter in itself, but great in its consequences," wanted to ensure it remained "in human memory." He devoted himself to it in volumes III and IV of his Histoire Contemporaine. L'anneau d'améthyste denounced the fierce nationalism and the infamous anti-Semitic crusade; the book reminded readers that God was Jewish and that one could even recognize his "biblical manner" in "these confessions breaking like thunder, this open throat, these revelations springing up from everywhere, this assembly of red robes." Professor Bergeret stated that he did not have the strength to hate 80,000 Jews, and in Monsieur Bergeret à Paris, we hear him state that "the abuse of the enemies of justice" a fitting and just reward, calling them "irremediably lost": "Your ruin lies within you. The necessary consequences of your errors and your crimes take place in spite of you (…) see how the enormous share of iniquity that had remained intact, respected and feared falls and crumbles in on itself (…) Why complain that the major culprits escape the law and hold onto their miserable honors? In our current social state, this matters as little as the fact that, when the earth was young (…) a few monstrous survivors of a condemned race remained stranded in layers of silt."

In À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, Marcel Proust describes the Princess de Guermantes secretly purchasing L'Aurore. Swann finds the anti-Dreyfusists stupid and the Dreyfusards "indistinctly intelligent"; he speaks of Barrès as having lost all talent, and describes Clemenceau as a "very great gentleman." In 1921, in his novel Jean Barois, Roger Martin du Gard-who, like Anatole France, would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature-made his hero a Catholic intellectual who would become a Dreyfusard and free-thinker. Speaking about his book, Albert Camus related how he experienced "intact individuals" and "the pain of very recent history."

The eyewitnesses

Joseph Reinach was very close to the Dreyfus family. Having been one of the most ardent voices in favor of the rehabilitation, he then became the historian of the Affair. Charles Péguy, a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure and passionate Dreyfusard in the pages of La Revue blanche, dreamed of writing a history, but ended by speaking of the "fraudulent termination of the affair," and the "decomposition of Dreyfusism." Although he acknowledged that the reconciled Republicans brought "new grandeur to France," in his book Notre Jeunesse, he lamented that mysticism had turned to politics, and did not forget the pardon that he still considered to be a mistake: "We were prepared to die for Dreyfus, but Dreyfus was not." In La Révolution dreyfusienne, published in 1909, Georges Sorel saw in many Dreyfusards only bourgeois who wanted to lead the State. In 1932, Daniel Halévy spoke of the twin stupors spawned by the Affair-that of the Jewish community faced with a wave of anti-Semitism, and that of the liberal bourgeoisie surprised by the scope of the conspiracy against Dreyfus-but he did not disown any of the things that had led him to write Apologie pour notre passé, which Péguy had sharply criticized.

In 1935, Léon Blum, who had written about the Zola trial under the pseudonym "A jurist", published his "Memories of the Affair" in the publication Marianne. He described the upheaval and the reclassification in interpersonal relationships, while lamenting the "faint-hearted neutrality" of too many Jews with respect to the Dreyfus struggle, "like today in the fight against Fascism." To Blum, the future leader of the Front Populaire, anti-Dreyfusism and fascism were threats that mere playacting could not turn aside, but he noted the immobility of the "heavy depths."