Postcards From the Dreyfus Affair

Opinions about Alfred Dreyfus--and modern anti-Semitism--were expressed through the new print media of the day.

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In this sense, postcards turned out to be an ideal tool for mobilizing supporters across social, religious, and national lines. The idea of being part of history in the making encouraged people in both camps to take a position, contribute to public debate, if only by buying and sending picture postcards. The pro-Dreyfus movement was particularly active and, among other strategies, produced pre-printed and pre-addressed postcards that could be simply signed, stamped and sent to Alfred Dreyfus' wife, Lucie, or to his lawyer, Henri Labori, as a sign of support.

Other visually-rich new media, such as serialized novels and illustrated newspapers, followed suit. Those against the Captain carried on anti-Semitic stereotypes. In contrast, illustrations defending Dreyfus insisted on his French identity and his devotion to serve his country. A popular serialized novel of the time, The Calvary of an Innocent Man, underplays the Jewish politics of the Affair to such an extent, that it turns it into a romance featuring broken hearts and a revenge.

The End of the Affair

Visual materials played an influential role in the Dreyfus Affair, playing no minor part in the final victory with Dreyfus' acquittal, reinstatement in 1906, and promotion.

However, decades after the Affair ended, France--and particularly its army--still could not acknowledge Dreyfus' innocence and honor him accordingly. Military and political oppositions prevented a street from being named after the Captain, lobbied for a statue of Dreyfus to be placed away from the Military Academy, and some historians continued writing, "Dreyfus' innocence was the generally accepted version of the Affair."

One had to wait until the 100th anniversary of the Affair's commencement to see Dreyfus' statue set up in the Tuileries Garden in Paris, see a square named after him, and witness official support for exhibitions, publications, and performances remembering this episode of French history. Today, visual materials relating to the Dreyfus Affair are popular again--in museums, elegant publications, and private collections.

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Brigitte Sion

Brigitte Sion is Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow in New York University's Program in Religious Studies. A writer, editor, translator, and teacher, she earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University in May 2008.