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The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus (English and French Edition)

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On an autumn morning in 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus appeared for a routine inspection but found himself summarily accused of high treason. Here he began a twelve-year ordeal that included... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Great book on a defining event in modern French history

At least for the foreseeable future, this superb account of the Dreyfus Affair by Jean-Denis, which appeared first in French in 1983, will almost certainly stand as the best account of what is unquestionably one of the seminal events in France since the French Revolution. Bredin does a masterful job of assembling all the primary facts of the Affair, introducing and describing all the major actors, and analyzing both the situation that made the Affair possible in the first place and the effects it had on France as a whole. If in the end the account lacks the small degree of passion and moral vision that could have rendered it a masterpiece of historical writing, the dispassion and deliberateness that he employs in his narrative are perhaps appropriate to a tale full of too much passion and too much irrational activity. One of the most striking features of Bredin's history is the amazingly small role that Captain Alfred Dreyfus himself played in the Affair. Not only did he not engage in the activities that caused his being tried for treason to begin with, he was not a major actor in the events that unfurled in the four years following his conviction. Dreyfus, in fact, was almost completely unaware of the Dreyfus Affair as it raged in France, dividing the nation and almost provoking a Civil War and inspiring a military coup d'etat. For most of those in the military who soon realized that Major Walsin-Esterhazy and not Dreyfus was the person engaged in espionage, and that therefore Dreyfus was innocent, Dreyfus's sufferings were utterly unimportant compared to the honor of the Army. Dreyfus the person dropped out, and Dreyfus the innocent victim became a potentially more dangerous threat to the Army than Dreyfus the supposed spy would have been (or Esterhazy the actual spy was). Ironically, after Zola's famous J'Accuse was published and the Affair gripped all of France, Dreyfus again was forgotten as a person. He became, instead, a symbol that the opponents of the Army and the Church could use as a weapon to attack those entrenched institutions. Indeed, when those who were more concerned with Dreyfus the individual rather than Dreyfus the cause, such as his brother Mathieu and his attorney Edgar Demange, undertook actions that were more beneficial to the individual than the cause, they were roundly criticized. Both sides seemed willing to make Dreyfus a martyr. The most painful parts of the book are those that reveal the depth and irrationality of the anti-Semitism of the supporters of the Army and the willingness of the Church and masses to espouse the most paranoid fantasies about the Jews during the Affair. No individual supported Dreyfus's cause on the merits of the case in these person's minds, but only because the Jewish Syndicate had paid them off. Every piece of evidence either exonerating Dreyfus or incriminating either the Army or anyone else was declaimed to be a Jewish forgery. The Dreyfus Affair becomes in this way almost

A gripping tale

Unfortunately, one seldom finds history as engrossing and artfully composed as Jean-Denis Bredin's "The Affair." As an American with scant knowledge of fin-de-siecle France or the proceedings against Alfred Dreyfus, I was surprised just how quickly and completely absorbed I was by this book. There are several distinct reasons to recommend reading "The Affair." First and foremost, it is an incredible and sobering story. The plot is filled with so much drama, so many eccentric and historically significant characters, bizarre twists of fate and intrigue that by the time you reach the denouement of Dreyfus' acquittal it is nearly impossible to believe that what you are reading actually happened. Second, even with a century's worth of perspective, there are still many debatable points about the Affair. For instance, it has been often repeated that had Dreyfus not been Dreyfus, he would have been Anti-Dreyfus. Bredin explicitly rejects this thesis, but after reading his book I must respectfully disagree. There is much about the Dreyfus Affair that is alternatively poignant, ironic, and tragic. That Dreyfus was personally imbued with and adhered to the principles and cause of his chief adversaries - namely a devotion to hierarchy and order, an unflinching loyalty to the Army and his superiors, and fervent nationalism - is one of them. Ultimately, whether the traitor was guilty or not was beside the point. During the course of the Affair, the Old Regime and its honored institutions, the Army and the Catholic Church above all, were pitted against the agents of Revolution. The Dreyfus that Bredin describes would never have deserted the cause of the Army and national honor to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the radical leftist elements that made up the Dreyfusard community.Finally, the Affair also serves as a cautionary tale for modern readers. The themes that dominated late nineteenth century France - the imminent threat of war with a long-time rival, agitated nationalism in the wake of a national tragedy, reactionary xenophobia and racial profiling - are not foreign to early twenty-first century Americans. It is important to remember that the Dreyfus Affair began quite accidentally; it was the mood of the nation that served as the tinderbox that lit the conflagration. There was circumstantial evidence pointing to Dreyfus as the author of a letter written to the German military attaché in Paris. That evidence was further supported by prejudice that expected an Alsatian Jew to be a traitor. When the French General Staff embarked on their mission to fabricate evidence against Dreyfus, it was with the complete conviction that they had the guilty party and merely wanted to ensure that he was appropriately punished. That first legal transgression, which seemed rather innocuous at the time, was the root of the conflict, for in order to save itself from that first indiscretion greater illegalities had to be committed. It is not impossible to envision something li

Best book on the subject there is, IMHO

This book is the best, by far, most complete, and most satifying book I ever read on the fantastic and fantastically interesting Dreyfus affair. The book is a most absorbing study, and won my award for "Best Book read by me in 1986" beating out the other 74 books I read that year.

Better Than Fiction

This book was a great read. It was better than any historical fiction because it is so unbelievably real. Yet, the book reads with the tension of a plot which could not have been crafted better by a Dostievsky or Hugo. If the subject interests you, I say- read this book!

Required reading?

I first read a concise account of the Dreyfus affair in William Shirer's "Collapse of the Third Republic," where it was treated principally as the story of the "incredible irresponsibility and venality of the Paris press." From Shirer's acount, I found it hard to understand how so much willful stupidity and dishonesty could endure for so long and survive so many assaults by reason.Bredin makes the answer all too clear. Of the principal players in this horror show, Dreyfus himself comes across as painfully ordinary -- perhaps because the speed of his court-martial, degradation, and incarceration on Devil's Island left him arguably the least informed Frenchman on the details of the his conviction. The bitter image of Dreyfus, incommunicado in a stucco hut while France was tearing itself apart, is clearest and most poignant for me.It is also the story of incredibly amateurish and unprofessional intelligence services leading France and Germany ever closer to disaster by their ludicrous escapades. But the stories of the incredibly frivolous Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen, who tore up secret correspondence and threw it into a wastebasket to be emptied by a concierge in French service, or the crude and duplicitous Hubert Henry are small potatoes indeed in the general panorama of madness on the eve of a new century in the City of Light.Bredin also makes clear the isolation of a few honest men -- Henri Picquart, Emile Zola, and a few statesmen -- in a turbulent riot of righteous scoundrels, conspiracy theorists, and terrified politicians (sound familiar?).Also made a little -- but not much -- more comprehensible by Bredin is the stubborn unwillingness of the officers of the French Army -- even those who knew or suspected details of the fraud that had sent Dreyfus into exile -- to countenance the simple admission of error and restoration of justice that would have done credit to French institutions. But senior officers had woven a tangled web of lies that finally bound them in rote denial, and may ultimately have prepared the way for disasters that eventually devoured the Republic.Read this book, and read it carefully. Then watch an investigative report on television, and check out the background for yourself. It's scary.
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