Frederic Raphael

An Affair To Remember

The Man on Devil’s Island: Alfred Dreyfus and the Affair that Divided France

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Horace was right, ‘Bis repetita placent’: people like to hear the same stories all over again. Why else should Ruth Harris add yet another volume to the fat library of material, ancient and modern, on the Dreyfus Affair? Her justification has to be either that she has new evidence or that her style will refresh the topic. Only a crackpot, counter-factual version of the Affair could argue that Dreyfus really was guilty and that the ‘Jewish lobby’, in a proto-typical form, perverted the course of justice. A more refined malice would merely wish that ‘the Jews’ had never succeeded in procuring Dreyfus’s vindication, since the consequences weakened France’s national unity and self-confidence. They also loosened the authority of the Catholic Church and made scepticism – the occupational tic of ‘intellectuals’ such as the 1930s philosopher, Alain – into a contagious anti-clerical attitude. 

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