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“Letter to Madam Alfred Dreyfus” – Essay by Émile Zola in the Newspaper L’Aurore – Paris, September 1899
Issue no. 704 of the French newspaper L’Aurore, conspicuously headlined with the essay “Lettre à Madame Alfred Dreyfus” [Letter to Madam Alfred Dreyfus], by Émile Zola. Paris, September 22, 1899. French.
The essay, composed as an open letter from Zola to Alfred Dreyfus’ wife, was written by Zola immediately upon his learning of Dreyfus’ pardon. It was printed in L’Aurore three days later, the day after the pardon was officially made public.
The French writer and publicist Émile Zola (1840-1902) was a prominent supporter of Alfred Dreyfus. His famous essay “J’Accuse!” (considered by many the most famous newspaper article of all time) was also published in L’Aurore, in January 1898. In the present essay – which can be viewed as a summary of the Dreyfus Affair, an epilogue to the struggle for justice that opened with J’Accuse! – Zola refers to the conclusion of the Dreyfus Affair and expresses his delight at Dreyfus’ pardon.
4 pp, 61.5 cm. Good condition.
The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided the French Third Republic from 1894 until its resolution in 1906. “L’Affaire”, as it is known in French, has come to symbolise modern injustice in the Francophone world and it remains one of the most notable examples of a complex miscarriage of justice and antisemitism. The role played by the press and public opinion proved influential in the conflict.
The scandal began in December 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason. Dreyfus was a 35-year-old Alsatian French artillery officer of Jewish descent. He was falsely convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, and was imprisoned on Devil’s Island in French Guiana, where he spent nearly five years.
In 1896, evidence came to light—primarily through an investigation made by Georges Picquart, head of counter-espionage—which identified the real culprit as a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. When high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence, a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy after a trial lasting only two days. The Army laid additional charges against Dreyfus, based on forged documents. Subsequently, Émile Zola’s open letter J’Accuse…! on the newspaper L’Aurore stoked a growing movement of support for Dreyfus, putting pressure on the government to reopen the case.
In 1899, Dreyfus was returned to France for another trial. The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus (now called “Dreyfusards”), such as Sarah Bernhardt, Anatole France, Charles Péguy, Henri Poincaré and Georges Clemenceau, and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards), such as Édouard Drumont, the director and publisher of the antisemitic newspaper La Libre Parole. The new trial resulted in another conviction and a 10-year sentence, but Dreyfus was pardoned and released. In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He died in 1935.
The affair from 1894 to 1906 divided France into pro-republican, anticlerical Dreyfusards and pro-Army, mostly Catholic “anti-Dreyfusards”. It embittered French politics and encouraged radicalisation