Interpreting the Visual Evidence

Anti-Semitism and the Popular Press in France

The Dreyfus Affair lasted twelve years, from 1894, when Captain Alfred Dreyfus was first arr ested and convicted of treason by a military court, to 1906, when he was finally absolved of all guilt and reinstated in the army. During the affair, most people in France followed the events of the case through the popular press, which had undergone rapid expansion as public schooling became more general and lit eracy spread through the population. The newspapers milked every episode of the case for all of its sensational drama, and editors openly took sides in order to increase their circulation and profits. The illustrated press was particularly popular, and the images associated with expressions of anti-Semitism became ubiquitous in both the respectable and the more popular press. Image A shows Jakob Rothschild, a French Jewish banker, stretching his demonic hands around the globe. Edouard Drumont, the anti- Semitic editor of La Libre Parole (Free speech) used the scandal to launch his own political career. His celebrity status is evident in a caricature of himself that appeared in a competing paper, Le Rire (image B). Even illustrations that did not aim at caricature could carry a powerful message about the intensity of popular anti- Semitism in France during the affair, as in image C, which depicts young people burning Alfred Dreyfus's brother Mathieu in effigy during a demonstration. (See also Dreyfus's degradation on page 725.)


Questions for Analysis

What fears about the economy are exploited in image A? (Compare this with the image on page 720 of socialists circling the globe, hand in hand.)
Is Le Rire’s portrait of Edouard Drumont (Image B) an anti-Semitic image or is it critical of Drumont’s anti- Semitism?
Taken together, what do these images tell us about the connections among anti-Semitism, the popular press, and the definitions of national identity that were current in France during the affair?

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