Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Dreyfuss + Dreyfus (for Dreyfus or Dreyfuss)

Sometimes it seems as though wrongful convictions are better tried in the media than they are in our courts of law. With groups like the Innocence Project, TV programs like Dateline and 48 Hours, and documentaries such as The Thin Blue Line (1988), Paradise Lost (1996), and Making a Murderer (2015), there has been a long history of this relationship between the falsely accused and the advocacy press. Émile Zola was convicted of libel on February 23, 1898, for having penned what's come to be called the "J'accuse" letter, published in the Paris daily L'Aurore, in which he asserted the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer and Jewish citizen, who had been charged and found guilty of espionage. Zola, by his own admission and like many of his own countrymen, was no fan of the Jews; nonetheless, he saw that Dreyfus was blameless. He alleged that the military police and government knew who the actual spy was (i.e., Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy) and were perpetrating a frame job and a cover-up. Both Émile Zola (who had also written several other articles on the subject) and Alfred Dreyfus (who had been imprisoned for five years on Devil's Island) were eventually exonerated. The "Dreyfus Affair" was highly polarizing, dividing staunch anti-Semites and the more "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" crowd. Dreyfus continued his career in the army and died in 1935; Zola had passed away decades earlier in 1902, after being asphyxiated in his own apartment. Some think he was murdered by a political enemy who maliciously blocked the entrance to his chimney in retaliation for his support of "Dreyfus the Jew." We found 19 cases of Dreyfuss + Dreyfus (for Dreyfus or Dreyfuss) in OhioLINK today, and 262 in WorldCat. (Note that the actor Richard Dreyfuss spells his name with two S's.)

(Autoportrait d'Émile Zola, 1902, in the public domain.)

Carol Reid

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