"I accuse... !" by Emile Zola in L'Aurore.
© Contemporary Collections
Publication date: November 2004
The Dreyfus affair: a miscarriage of justice
In March 1896, Picquart, the new Chief of Staff Intelligence, discovered the identity of the real traitor, Commander Esterhazy. Under public pressure, Esterhazy nevertheless had to go to court, only to be acquitted on January 11, 1898.
I accuse… !
Faced with this inequity, the supporters of the revision of the Dreyfus trial mobilized to stir public opinion in favor of the captain. On January 13, 1898, Émile Zola published in the newspaper Dawn, founded by Clemenceau and Vaughan the previous year, an open letter to the President of the Republic, Félix Faure, with the provocative title, "Jaccuse…! ", Chosen by Clemenceau, was displayed in large print on the title page of the newspaper. In this long and dense argument, which occupies the first two pages of the diary in six columns, Zola first recalls the circumstances of the Affair, the discovery of the bordereau and the conviction of Dreyfus, then returns to the revelation of the treason. of Commander Esterhazy, before denouncing his scandalous acquittal and accusing, in a series of litanies beginning with the famous "J'accuse", the Ministers of War, the officers of the staff and the experts in writing summoned during Esterhazy's trial to be responsible for the conviction of an innocent, acquitting a guilty. To the accuracy and reliability of the information provided by Zola is added the vigor of the writer's style, making this article a literary monument, a true "prophecy" to use the expression of an enthusiastic admirer, Charles Péguy ("The recent works of Zola", in Notebooks of the Fortnight, December 4, 1902, p. 33). At a time when the audience of the press was asserting itself more and more, this pamphlet had a big impact in the public opinion: proclaimed in the street during the day of January 13 by the salesmen of the newspaper Dawn, printed for the occasion in 300,000 copies, the cry "Jaccuse" stirred up great excitement in the streets of Paris, while it exposed its author to an unprecedented burst of hatred.
Truth in motion
By committing himself publicly in this way, Émile Zola achieved his goal: the government immediately launched legal proceedings against him and against the Clemenceau newspaper. The extraordinary media coverage of the Zola trial, which led to his conviction on February 23, 1898, gave the Affair great publicity, crystallizing Dreyfus and anti-Dreyfus passions and revealing to the whole world the gray areas surrounding the Dreyfus trials. and Esterhazy. This affair then turned into a real moral and political crisis, and it was not until 1906 that Dreyfus, condemned again after a second no less unfair trial and then pardoned, was rehabilitated by the government.
- Dreyfus Affair
- Zola (Emile)
- Clemenceau (Georges)
- Third Republic
- Faure (Felix)
- public opinion
- Peguy (Charles)
Pierre ALBERTHistory of the pressP.U.F., QSJ coll., 7th ed, Paris, 1993.Emile Zola Exhibition catalog, National Library of France, Paris, 2002. Pierre BIRNBAUMMadmen of the Republic: Political History of the Jews of Gambetta State in VichyThreshold, Paris, 1992. Jean-Denis BREDINThe caseFayard-Julliard, Paris, 1993 (new ed.) Madeleine REBÉRIOUXThe Radical Republic. 1898-1914Threshold, Paris, 1975.Michel WINOCKNationalism, anti-Semitism and fascism in FranceSeuil, Paris, 1990.
To cite this article
Charlotte DENOËL, "" J'accuse ...! "By Zola"