Today in Literary History – January 13, 1898 – Émile Zola publishes “J’Accuse…!”

On January 13, 1898 French novelist Émile Zola published an open letter to the French President Félix Faure in the newspaper L’Aurore. The letter was headlined “J’Accuse…!”

In it Zola accused President Faure and his government of anti-Semitism in its handling of the so called “Dreyfus affair,” in which a French General Staff officer, Alfred Dreyfus, who was Jewish, was sentenced to a lifetime of penal servitude on Devil’s Island for treason on little or no evidence.

Emile Zola as a naturalist, from 'L'Eclipse' (engraving) (b/w photo)

Zola indicted the government for targeting Dreyfus because he was a Jew and then of covering up its flawed prosecution.

Zola himself was charged with libel for his attack on Faure and sentenced in February to a year’s imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 francs. Zola managed to escape prison by going into exile in England. His article, however led to public support for Dreyfus and his eventually being pardoned by the president.

Dreyfus was not officially exonerated until 1906.

Alfred Dreyfus


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