19-End of Dreyfus Affair
The dreyfusards paid dearly for their commitment to the cause. Their names were smeared, their reputations darkened and their careers suffered in the venture. Even if at first most, like Séverine, were not convinced of Dreyfus’ innocence and were only outraged by the farcical trial, as time went on, evidence came out and it appeared almost certain that a real travesty of justice had transpired. Nevertheless, it took almost two years after Zola’s “J’Accuse” for a new trial to be granted. In the interim the investigation continued and it was discovered that the second document that had been produced to prove Dreyfus’ guilt was a forgery by Major Henry at the urging the General Staff. After his arrest and confession Major Henry committed suicide. Mathieu Dreyfus’s appeal to the Military Court was transferred to the Supreme Court for review. The court of appeals annulled the 1894 trial and pulled Dreyfus off Devil’s Island to lock him up in Rennes for a new trial. It took place in August and September 1899.
Five months after her surgery Séverine was ready to go but La Fronde did not have the funds to send her to Rennes, so she paid her own way. On Sunday August 5 the Parisians were leaving for vacation at the train station, but Séverine was off to battle. In Rennes she found a new family. Bernard Lazare was there, carrying the torch he had lit more than three years earlier. Anatole France, Georges Clemnceau, Fernand Labori the attorney and Jean Jaurès among many others. Jaurès had understood very quickly that besides an excuse to foment anti-Semitism the affair was being used to undermine relations between France and Germany. Both of these issues would spill over into the 20th century.
In Rennes she stayed at Trois Marches where the dreyfusards gathered every evening around a big table to relax. Séverine the libertarian and pacifist fighting for a bourgeois officer of the French army met a group of socialists and anarchists who understood and accepted this contradiction. Some remained for the entire trial, others like Octave Mirbeau or Elisée Reclus only passed through. They all had different political inclinations but were not sectarian. They were not there to proselytize or impose their dogma but to seek justice and the truth. The atmosphere was serious but surprisingly cheerful, maybe because they were sure that Dreyfus would be acquitted. For the first time in her life Séverine felt comfortable in a group and she began to understand the real value of collective action.
But the anti-dreyfusards were present as well. At one point a mob of a thousand students led by three priests attacked a hotel were many dreyfusards were staying. Although a lot of property was damaged, no one was seriously injured. There was no police investigation. On August 14, a week after the trial began, Dreyfus’ lawyer Fernand Labori, who had defended Zola after Clément Duval and Augsut Vaillant, was shot while leaving the house where he stayed with his wife and two daughters. Fortunately the wound was not fatal, but the shooter ran away. Everyone knew that the incident had been instigated back in Paris by Edouard Drumont the anti-Semite and Henri Rochefort, that ex-communard, ex-penal colonist, who had once confronted Napoleon III but had now turned nationalist, anti-Semite and misogynist. The trial continued with the second lawyer, Edgar Demange.
For more than a month, the witnesses came forth and the evidence was presented to the military tribunal. After five years in hell, Alfred Dreyfus awaited his acquittal before overwhelming proof. On September 10 1899 the soldiers were out in force, ready for a riot on one side or another of the street. After less than two hours of deliberation, a verdict was reached. 5 to 2 majority. Guilty as charged. But with extenuating circumstances, so only ten years in prison, thus saved from the penal colony. Military prejudice had triumphed again, but they were far from Paris, so there were no riots, only gaping mouths and stunned stares in watery eyes at the absurdity of the ruling.
Nine days later on September 19 President Emile Loubet pardoned Dreyfus for political reasons but he was not deemed innocent, so it changed nothing on the greater scale of things. Dreyfus almost refused the offer, but his desire to be free and return to his family was too great. His exoneration would wait six more years until 1905 to happen. After years of battle the Affair had left its mark on everyone, especially Séverine. In 1900 she published her collection of articles on Dreyfus, Vers le lumière [Towards the Light], starting with “Une Lache” [A Coward], January 24 1895, and ending with “Notre Oeuvre” [Our Work], September 14 1899. Almost five years of effort for nothing.
In fact Séverine did gain a great deal in the Dreyfus Affair, despite the crushing disappointment of the outcome. She had come out of her solitude when she left Rennes with a group of friends and colleagues who had stood side by side on the front lines and sat together in back rooms. She saw how strength in numbers, in union, was potent and valuable, which she could use in her causes, especially as World War I approached. The Affair also, perhaps, raised her up to a different, higher level of journalism as she became aware of the more universally profound repercussions of the power of the press.
After the Affair Séverine was anything but idle, but being an ex-dreyfusard she was blacklisted and had to take any opportunity that arose. The result was a scattering of varied articles with no real focus. She was adrift and unsettled, but not beaten. Very soon a new career would open up to her in what she had once shunned like the plague: Public Speaking.
Next: Our Work