18-La Frondeuse



18-La Frondeuse

Marguerite Durand, the brilliant actress of the Comdédie Française, had quit everything to marry Georges Laguerre in 1888. Séverine had met her in the conspiratorial atmosphere of her salon during the heyday of General Boulanger[1]. A young, blonde beauty Durand enjoyed her social life and was a strong supporter of Boulanger, but she was intelligent and critical and no blind zealot. Although nine years her senior, Séverine hit it off with her right away, finding in her not only a friend but a surrogate younger sister. They saw each other often, going to dinner and the theater, Séverine’s continuing passion and Marguerite’s former milieu. She and Sarah Bernhardt would become Séverine’s two best, livelong friends. However, Marguerite’s marriage to Laguerre was incompatible and they separated in 1891 (eventually divorcing in 1895), forcing her to earn a living. Like Séverine she turned to journalism.

Writing for Le Figaro, Durand was sent to an International Feminist Congress in 1896 to write a nice little satirical piece. She went there indifferent, ready to have fun. She came away transformed, ready to take up arms. She refused to write the article for Le Figaro and dedicated the rest of her life to fighting for women’s rights, for which she would become a sort of muse. Her ambition was to found a feminist newspaper. Not just feminist in its editorial line, but really feminist: written, directed, administered, printed, everything run exclusively by women. And not just a paper for women, but a paper for everyone, like any other, covering politics, economics, culture and society. Such a thing was unprecedented in history. Not even in the United States or England, the hotbeds of feminism, had such a thing been accomplished, but by the autumn of 1897 she had found the money. And the name: La Fronde, i.e. Revolt.

One of the first people Marguerite Durand approached to collaborate with her was, of course, Séverine. The paper just could not appear without her. Séverine was hesitant, knowing La Fronde could not pay her going rates, and reluctant about the political stance and editorial control because she was entering the battle for Dreyfus and already facing antagonism. First of all Durand assured her the paper was pro-Dreyfus, but of course the money was another thing. She was paying all the women the same rates as men, the female typographers received the same wages as unionized males—the only man in the building was the old janitor—so, yes, she would have to take a pay cut. But she, like all the writers, would enjoy complete editorial freedom because the paper belonged to no organization and cared only for quality. They negotiated hard, but not too long, and Séverine joined the team. The first edition hit the streets on December 9 1897, barely a year and a half after it’s quixotic conception at the feminist congress.

Séverine’s articles appeared on the front page under the rubric “Notes d’une frondeuse” (Notes of a Rebel), the same title as the collection of articles about the Dreyfus Affair that she would publish in 1900. It was a haven for her, a refuge where she could write with humor or venom or outrage without censorship. After Zola’s trial, as the weeks rolled by, the camp of dreyfusards had grown, but their anti-Semite, nationalist adversaries had also strengthened their ranks and the battle was fiercely fought in public, in private and in the papers. Anti-Semitism had impregnated all levels of society, especially the different schools of socialists who argued bitterly among themselves as to which side to take. For others it was purely a matter of patriotism, of love of country, which quickly turned into a feeling of hatred for foreigners. Most anarchists sat on the sidelines and watched, waiting, their patriotism being defined by Sébastien Faure: a chemical product containing 40 grams of love and 60 grams of hate.

Séverine covered the case rigorously after the parody of the Esterhazy trial in 1898 where he was acquitted despite glaring evidence against him. Doubts about Dreyfus’ innocence had vanished and a retrial seemed assured. But Séverine soon faced a different battle in her life. She was forty-four years old in the spring of 1899 when she started suffering from fatigue. She thought it was a result of the good fight after years of combat had battered her health, but the doctor told her it was more serious, something in the ovaries or uterus that she would rather not think about but that would need a hysterectomy immediately.   She was bedridden with her mother at her side, but she continued writing up to the last minute because she needed the money but more importantly because she needed to forget her fear… of pain, of suffering and especially of death. On March 16 1899, she went under the knife.

The operation lasted a few hours and when she woke up Sarah Bernhardt and Marguerite Durand were there for her. When she asked how she looked they stammered. Finally they brought her a mirror and she stared blankly into it—her golden hair had turned totally white. “I prefer to be a young old woman than an old young woman,” she said with good grace. But she had little time to recuperate before jumping back into the fire.

La Fronde was a paper for all women no matter what their religion or race, but it was ostensibly pro-Dreyfus. On the other hand the big press along with the government was almost completely anti-dreyfusard and their arms were long and powerful. With the commercially-condemning dreyfusard slant came a lawsuit for illegally employing women: the typesetters night work was an infraction of the protectionist laws of 1892. And the subversive paper was banned from girls’ schools and factories where women were working. Money dried up and the ship sank. In October 1903 La Fronde closed its doors, but not before playing its role and setting a historic standard for feminists around the world.

[1] See 9-General Boulanger.


The Accused



The Accused[1]

To feel the continual and irresistible necessity to shout out at the top of your lungs what you think, especially when you are the only one to think it, even at the risk of spoiling the joys of your life, that is what my passion has been. I am all bloody from it, but I love it and if I am worth anything, it is from that and that alone.

Emile Zola, Une campagne, 1882.


The man is in front of me, in his house—this house that they took so much trouble to point out to the raging mad, specifying the address, adding a drawing to the text, describing the grounds and the shortest way to get here and then undoubtedly accomplish their inspired task…

The house is beautiful because it is spacious and furnished with relics. If there is luxury here, it is the luxury of art and therefore it does not shock me since it remains inaccessible to the vulgar and to the “bores,” to the mind-starved who have nothing but money.

And then if, little by little, in the commonplace atmosphere, under the patina of the years, everything is harmonized, you really feel that the nest was nonetheless built one twig at a time and that these beautiful or rare things, for the most part ancient, are not a mass legacy that used to surround the very modest cradle where the simple employee of the publisher Hachette was born.

Success came gradually and it was during his travels or after every triumph that he acquired here or there some marvel without any intrinsic value but artistically priceless in the eyes of collectors.

But each of these trinkets has seen centuries and to the detriment of their wholeness has lived through warring and peaceful generations, events just the mention of which leaves us dreamy.

Oh, no, this is not the house of an oaf or a philistine or a churchwarden! And no setting as much as this speaking, living mosaic of a background, attesting to the emptiness of ancestral follies and the survival only of a philosophy superior to the ephemeral deeds of humans, no setting could be more fitting to the ascetic vision that my eyes scrutinize and itemize—in a daze!


Ascetic? Zola? Well, yes. Now, don’t be too quick to smile or shout out. I knew the early Zola, the struggling, tired man of labor and reflection, who powerfully and weightily plowed his way with heavy steps, massive shoulders and strained kidneys.

I also knew the later Zola, thinner, successful, in his glorious and dangerous period when the militant arms, hanging on the wall, seemed reduced to being just a trophy, when his ardor also seemed numbed and when his thought was in danger of turning bourgeois.

As undeniable a master as he was, I still had some bones of contention with him. Let’s not fool ourselves: I am no sycophant, no blind, unconditional admirer. In many of his works there are passages that shock me, being a woman, and about which I would express my opinion much more freely if it was the day to climb up the Capitol. But every time I close one of his books, in reviewing my impressions, my enthusiasm so far surpasses any disappointment that the latter is left an insignificant trifle.

Yes, I did not like Adèle’s childbirth in Pot-Bouille [1882]—but what were these ten pages after the three hundred others of admirable satire against the caste in power! Yes, in Germinal [1885] there were, perhaps, some useless observations—but what a plea on behalf of poverty and the poor beasts of the firedamp burden! Yes, in La Terre [1887] also some things repulsed me—but the hail, the harvest, the rain, the hay, all the fumes from the earth, all the steam from the water, all the winds from the sky, through the power of the word we savored the mirage and really felt it. There is only “Jesus Christ”[2] that I remained adamant about… and saddened by. Even if there really were a man who bore such a name, we should not give it to him and offend so many loving, believing souls, puerile if you want, but in the sense of respect, faith and love!


Therefore, I am not blinded by passion or hypnotized by any unbridled, limitless devotion. I am the master of my judgment; I discuss; I appreciate—no fetishism fetters the exercise of my free will and the spirit of inquiry that is constantly awake in me.

And you should believe me when I say that this new Zola whose facial expressions I watched, whose tone of voice I listened to, revealed himself and asserted himself such as I had never known him before.

Oh, there is nothing prophetic about his beard and no frenzy shakes his body. He is not violent and he is not hateful. Whoever has described him with such rude profanities has lied. On the contrary, he is simplicity and serenity itself.   He did what he believed was his duty… and he therefore has what is always present with such certitude: peace of mind. And without solemnity—with smiling, indulgent friendliness, barely tinged with melancholy.

But his big, clear, golden brown eyes behind the pince-nez radiate the inner flame of his conviction. And his deep, harmonious voice, determined and discreet, is stamped with irresistible persuasion.

While he speaks, sitting calmly, envisioning all the personal responsibilities of his act and ready to suffer everything, an amusing detail strikes me in this unraveler of enigmas: his nose!

It is not nice and pretty. It is not ugly either. Anyway, it is not stubby or ridiculous. There is just a cleft at the end like in the Braque Saint Germain, those hunting dogs of superior race. “A sign of cynicism!” certain idiots I know would shout out. But I do not have the time to think about them. I am listening to, now eagerly interested in the beginning of the adventure: how Zola the triumphant, acclaimed, rich and peaceful, decided to jump in… headfirst.

It did not come from hearing the nightingale sing—but almost!

One evening he was visiting another person’s house when someone came in who had attended Dreyfus’ degradation that morning. The story was told by the eyewitness in such rich detail and such visional bitterness, maybe also with such satisfaction, that the writer’s spirit rose up against it. A gust of pity, like a gust of incense, infused his soul. “A man alone, even guilty, against all those men, abandoned to spitting and hissing!”

But since the verdict seemed right, given without hatred or fear, in absolute certitude, it could only have been a fleeting impression. Zola thought no more about it, or not much, for three years. Chance had to fall upon him in the form of Scheurer-Kestner and other people whose names I forget, concerning proof and evidence, for his conviction to be settled, inflexible and invincible.

He and some others faced with insults and defiance became madly obsessed with bringing out this evidence and giving the proof—and these people were treated like Judas, like spies and traitors, corrupted. They knew self-sacrifice, haughty courage, the ultimate patriotism, of not yielding to temptation, of not justifying themselves at the expense of the very people who were insulting them. Among the latter were some who knew the truth and who gambled on the dilemma to shut their opponents up. Either stay quiet, tolerate the outrage, bear through the ordeal until the end and maintain your stoical virtue, or answer to it and become beggars, try to win at such a price!

Ah, how I as a wife and mother would like them to stay quiet!


Now Zola is about to appear before the court: acquitted or convicted he will continue his way toward a goal from which nothing can turn him away. He knows everything that is said and everything that is plotted, what meetings have been set up and what individuals have been posted. Not he but Labori built up the caseload of threats. And for the first time in court, seeing that he has been in no previous trial, he will meet Madame Dreyfus and Mathieu Dreyfus whom he has never seen. No one has interceded for him, on his behalf, and almost everyone involved is French of the old breed and Christian of the old school.

But what does all this matter? No embarrassing truth is accepted—and that is how the falsehoods that the gullible abuse are created today.

And whereas no one is begging foreigners “to get mixed up in their business,” I who have seen the international protests in favor of the Canadian Riel, the Russian Zasulich, the Cossack Atchinof, the Spaniards of Montjuïc[3], etc, etc., I am thinking of what intellectual Europe thinks about him whom only a part of France—oh, a very small part!—does not know. Tolstoy, for Russia, supports him; the Dutch Domela Nieuwenhuis wrote to him, “The accusation that you suffer in the name of violated justice marks you out as a great person”; the Dane Bjornson wrote to him, “How much I envy you today! How much I would like to be in your place so I could do service to homeland and to humanity like you are doing”; the Englishman Christie Murray applauds him; the American Mark Twain said in the New York Herald, “I am filled with a deep and boundless respect and admiration for him”; the Italian Carducci, the Victor Hugo of the Peninsula, wrote his name at the top of an address bearing six thousand signatures; the women of Hungary “to the immortal apostle of truth” wrote that his letter to France “found a powerful echo in the hearts of all civilized people.”

Here there are some people demanding the exile of Aristides or the dungeon of Torquato Tasso for him!

Far from bringing them to resipiscence[4], this luminous levee exasperates them. They have forgotten those famous verses of a patriot who was once a minister but who nevertheless wrote:

There are no more seas or steps or rivers

That limit the heritage of humanity:

The limits of the mind are the sole frontiers,

The world, lighting up, rises to unity.

My homeland is there where France beams,

Wherever its genius bedazzles man!

I am a fellow citizen of everyone who deems

“The truth, that is my homeland!”

Thus concluded de Lamartine. Thus can we conclude today. Escorting the Accused, the greatest minds of the civilized world will appear in court. Let them be judged!


[1] February 5 1898, included in Vers la lumière 1900.

[2] The name of a character in La Terre.

[3] Louis Riel (1844-1885), a founder of Manitoba and leader of the native Métis people who was executed for treason in 1885; Vera Zasulich (1849-1919), Marxist writer and revolutionary who had shot a Russian colonel; Nikolai Atchinof (1856-?) led a Greek orthodox expedition into French territories around Egypt and defied the authorities; Anarchist supporters were executed at the Montjuïc fortress in Barcelona in 1897.

[4] Recalling them to their senses.

About the Enigma



About the enigma[1]

I can talk about it without hate or fear. Without hate because I have no bias—not being sure enough of the facts to stand firmly, no matter what may happen, among the “upholders” of innocence; and too independent, too passionate about truth and too worried about justice to put blind faith, without investigation, without discussion, in the credo that they try to impose on us through terror. Without fear because one good thing about the outrageousness of some ordeals is that it desensitizes and from now on, in the face of insults, I am like Mithradates and poison: I have taken too much; it has no effect!

For, that is where we are. To say what you think, no matter how reasonable and polite, constitutes a danger and exposes you to attack by stone-throwing, mud-slinging hands.

But maybe this very excess of violence is a blunder. Although they have earned the silence of weak and timid souls, it could be believed that stronger, more hardened minds would not so patiently accept such bullying, such an attack on individual rights, that they would not resist the temptation to rise to the challenge, even at the prospect of danger, so absolutely domineering and seductive.

Popularity is not pleasing to lofty minds unless it accompanies some particular act of courage or justice and unless it does so with intuition and passion. When gotten in error and abuse, picked up but not hard won, by feeding and flattering the vulgarity of the crowd—which is not the people—it remains insignificant and rejected by proud, honest people.

An elite? Certainly not. The word is pretentious and the idea ridiculous. But there is the compensation in numbers, that inescapable law that almost always puts right and reason on the side of the minority.

You have to know how to be part of it. You have to want to be part of it, stubbornly, fiercely! Because of the principle that power and force engender, inevitably arbitrary, which cannot be exerted without harming the freedom of others.

Furthermore, this is hardly a reasoned result; it is a matter of temperament. From the first step, in a way, everyone marks out their path and under the sign they were born. You can easily tell the difference between the well behaved and the defiant, between who will be a tyrant and who a rebel.

The present dispute is making the same division: authoritarians versus libertarians. The one side epileptically struggling to muzzle the other.

And Dreyfus is only a pretext for the great battle of ideas.


Who cared about it before? His family, of course, and a few fellow Alsatians (remember in Le Journal last November that very strange search at Monsieur Ranson’s house), a few coreligionists—and according to [Edgar] Demange and Bernard Lazare a few people worried about the irregularities of the trial. Many of them made no definitive conclusion about his innocence. They did not say, “He was unjustly judged.” They only said, “He was badly judged,” in the legal sense of the term.

These eccentrics, these malicious people thought that the fact that humans assume the prerogative to judge the mind and action of another, to bring it before their assembled fallibility and slap it with some kind of penalty has no other counterweight, no other excuse or surety but the strict observance and exaggerated respect for the method, the formalities.

Now, in this trial all the rules had been broken; this is undeniable. Agaisnt those very rare individuals who had made this troubling observation at that moment they had opposed the issues of national security, the fear of Germany and the interests of state. They were highly esteemed, unquestionable arguments, but used really too offhandedly to be used without rationalization.

Interests of State? But we were in the 23rd year of the Third Republic and the young generation had soaked up and was still warm with the republican teaching. In the schools they had hammered it in that interests of State was a crime of the MONARCHY and the monarchy had been destroyed for it. They made the kids shiver when they told them about the Templars, the crimes of Louis XI, the brutality of the Inquisition, the savagery of the Duke of Alba, the ruthlessness of Richelieu—and Saint Bartholomew Day and the Dragonnades! They made them cry over La Ballue, the Iron Mask, [Jean Henri] Latude, the murder of the Duke of Enghien, Josephine abandoned, [Michel] Ney and La Bédoyère shot… What were they going to say in the Republic about the interests of State?

Fear of Germany? But it judges its spies without fear of us. It is apparent, fortunately, that they are no keener on war over here than they are over there. Over-zealous patriotism would not be permitted over there: it would be judged dangerous to world peace and swiftly repressed.

National security? But wasn’t the last quarter of a century that they have been repairing and preparing, backed by crushing taxes in the billions, good for anything?

Under close scrutiny the three pretexts are nothing but pretexts. And the conviction took root and spread, creating ripples, that “there was something,” that an unheard-of blunder, that a pathetic subterfuge had taken place to get or to “formulate” the physical evidence without which the circumstantial evidence would have gone unheeded and the members of the war council, with nothing on which to base their accusations, would have been unable or unwilling to come to a decision.

Innocent, not innocent, who knew. They were only protesting against violating the rules in use with respect to a defendant—whoever he may be!


The years rolled by. The Dreyfus family, as was its right as well as its duty, tried everything that might prove the innocence of their brother, husband and father, whom they believed and still believe to be innocent.

For, they felt sorry, justifiably, for the little Esterhazy girls, incriminated for three months, but the same people did not dream for a minute about the Dreyfus children, crushed under their father’s disgrace for three years—and no guiltier!

As backward as I might be, I did not know that for national interests we had stepped back into punishing children for the sins of their fathers.

I can talk about these things with ease after my cautious cruelty of not seeing Madame Dreyfus, which I just might do again. There was, there is, too much money in their house.   But as a woman, as a mother, I sympathized with her, as I still do, and understood her effort on behalf of her absent husband.

Another, parallel effort had to be made without her knowing: that of Lieutenant Colonel Picquart who as director of the intelligence service for the war office, after coming upon a trail that seemed worth serious consideration, would have betrayed his role, his professional obligations, if he had followed through on it.

Du Paty de Clam[2] has, I think, also slightly overstepped his discretionary powers as investigator concerning the prisoner in his care. Except that the defendant was found guilty. So, it was good. Lieutenant Colonel Picquart’s suspect [Esterhazy] was acquitted. So, it was bad. There is no other difference.

Around the same time, Scheurer-Kestner—whose attention had been drawn to the affair by the doubts constantly put forward by his fellow Alsatians—also ordered an investigation to unravel the enigma, if possible.

By different ways these three men, Mathieu Dreyfus, Lieutenant Colonel Picquart and Senator Scheurer-Kestner ended up at the crossroads where they were bound to meet.

What was at the crossroads?

The note.


They told us that the handwriting experts had declared that the note was not written by Esterhazy. I really want to admit that they had made such a declaration, although nothing proves it because it was behind closed doors and they kept us sequestered from this kind of testimony even when it posed no apparent danger to the peacefulness of Europe.

But I must quickly add that if I had I heard them it would not have made me any more trustful of this art that seems to me, whatever field is being treated, full of paradox, inconsistency and deception.

I remember that in toxicology Monsieur Bergeron wrongly got the head of the poor herbalist Moreau; and in the Druaux affair and in the Cauvin affair, in all the most notorious judicial errors, the experts, in stirring up unanimity and doubtlessly too much good faith, testified how the judge urged them: in falsehood.

I also remember the legendary trial in which the “man of science” declared that the document submitted to his expertise was certainly not in the hand of the accused although the marginal notes, with no less certainty, was in his hand. Now, this belonged to the President! It was he who had annotated the dossier!

Therefore, I remain skeptical. But even if, conscientious of the matter being judged, I cannot confirm that the note is from Esterhazy, I can say that my conviction, the result not of an impression but of a study, my absolute, invincible, unshakeable conviction—we are free in this, aren’t we?—attributes it to him.

A traitor, then? No, not at all. A dear servant, on the other hand, deserving hereafter to be spared and protected. It is only a hypothesis, but let’s look more closely at it. I assure you that it is worth the trouble.

Monsieur Dreyfus is in the war office. He “came up” young. He is rich. He is a Jew. Along with this, such as they painted him for us, he bore more of the bad than the good qualities of his race: he is rough, gruff, haughty, ambitious, and maybe scheming. You see, I do not pretty up the picture.

He is envied and loathed. Some sectarianism is mixed up in the competitive environment, in office matters. He is the victim of deadly hatred—of hatred like Montjuïc![3]

Now, there were “leaks” like there still are and will always be! The enemy is suspicious of the enemy and to its ruin desires and hunts for someone to accuse. The suspicion festers. They gather clues and circumstantial evidence… Is Dreyfus guilty, is he reckless, is he innocent? I do not know.

But whether innocent, reckless or guilty, there is no proof to bring him to a court-martial. Which proves that in a sincere belief, for interests of the State, to safeguard the fatherland, to save it from whom they imagined a traitor and whom they could punish, they did not ask any tangible proof from the officer whose writing resembled his the most?

A novel? No more than the rest. The closed doors are dangerous because they allow all conjectures.

The council of war, in its soul and conscience, passes judgment based on the note. Because it has told us that there is no secret evidence.

Like Monsieur de Cassagnac, furthermore, I reckon that in the single tribunal bringing forth only one document not released to the accused and his defense would suffice to nullify the verdict, being a monstrous derogation.

But Dreyfus goes off the Devil’s Island, innocent or guilty—judged like that.


What were the three trail seekers, Mathieu Dreyfus, Picquart and Scheurer-Kestner, supposed to think of the note with such a “frightening” resemblance to Esterhazy’s writing?

But since they did not considered the same hypothesis, since the starting point was different, they had to conclude that, because there had been treason, the traitor could be none other than the author of the note.

They did think it, at least, especially faced with the facts: the disgrace inflicted on Colonel Picquart who was too eager to find out what they were trying to hide; the attitude of the chiefs who were at first all fired up and then turned completely cold; the obvious protection given to Esterhazy who was free until the end to make his plans; the people attending the second military tribunal, hand-picked from the auxiliary press; the lack of investigation, the closed doors sessions, the obvious fear of the least incident that might bring the scandal to light again!

Does this amount to saying that the judges the other day were biased or under orders? I do not believe so. I do not want to believe so. They judged on what they were given to judge—that is, empty air, a void, nothing, nothing, nothing!

Add to this what is fatal: the spirit of hierarchy and discipline that is inherent to the uniform, to the job of a soldier; the impossibility for these brains molded in leather and steel to admit that their colleagues, their predecessors might have been wrong; the horror of thinking how the military prestige might collapse under the discovery of such an error… and you will understand the blasé fulfillment of an already weighty task and the fear of finding more than had been given.


I have only one more thing to say, to repeat rather, since I have already said it.

Before the Esterhazy affair, when people talked to me about the Dreyfus affair, I invariably answered, “They haven’t given me any proof of the convicted man’s innocence so far, but neither have they given me any proof to the contrary, seeing the way he was judged. I’m not sure…”

Since then—and especially after the public session at Cherche-Midi [prison]—the obvious desire to snuff out, to stifle the debate, the tactics taken, the campaign waged, the uproar organized, the alliance to intimidate or gag whoever permitted himself just to doubt, has determined my inevitable reaction.

Amidst the storm of insults I have just described the matter without insulting anyone. I have spoken, I believe, calmly. And I am not alone in thinking like this. There are a few of us (including the good people whom they are trying to stir up but who remain quiet) who, without being “spies,” “traitors,” or “for sale,” are milling about the enigma and want the truth… and we will have it!


[1] January 14 1898, included in Vers la lumière 1900.

[2] Who examined the handwriting and declared it evidence enough to have Dreyfus arrested.

[3] “Jew Mountain” in Barcelona where five anarchists were executed under antiterrorist laws in 1897 during a crackdown on the militant working class.