19-End of Dreyfus Affair



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.


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.

17-The Dreyfus Affair Begins



17-The Dreyfus Affair Begins

Toward the end of the century, in spite of the aggressive repression by the Lois Scélérates, Séverine kept busy with her columns for various papers, but her collaborations were certainly not appreciated by many radicals on the left. Even moderate liberals could accuse her of contradiction when she was writing for a monarchist paper like Le Gaulois or the fashionable press like Gil Blas, even though her principles were never sacrificed. Educated in the Vallès school of journalism she was ready to defend the victims of injustice in whatever venue was available as long as she was given complete freedom in her writing. That was how she ended up contributing to Drumont’s anti-Semite paper Libre Parole. More than identifying herself as a follower of this of that school of thought or staying cooped up with the right people, more than being a rebel just for the sake of it, she clung to the cause, representing the dispossessed, fighting for the oppressed in any and every field she found. Plus, she had to earn a living. Her husband, Adrien Guebhardt, living in the south of France, did not support her and her lover, Georges de Labruyère, was more often given money than giving.

At the end 1894, while Paris was busy worrying about the anarchist bombs and the assassination of President Carnot, another crime, a seemingly clear-cut treachery slipped into the papers. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the first Jewish officer to be admitted to the General Staff, was arrested on October 15 for spying on behalf of Germany. The case hinged on a document that had been found in a trash can at the Kaiser’s embassy in Paris and that was identified as his handwriting. The trial was swift and inept and on December 22 he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Dreyfus, of course, claimed his innocence and through his family found a supporting friend in the journalist Bernard Lazare, but they remained alone and isolated in their appeals. Their tenacity, on the other hand, was unstoppable.

Séverine, like everyone else, did not doubt Dreyfus’ guilt, but she did raise her voice against two injustices: once when he was refused a retrial and a second time for the ignoble behavior of the uniforms when they shipped him off to Devil’s Island on January 20 1895. See, there were reporters present when an officer reached over a policeman and smacked Dreyfus on the head with his sword. The bleeding, defenseless prisoner staggered on, unaided by anyone. Séverine was indignant and condemned the act in L’Eclair, cowardice being one of the things she hated most in the world. But this came as no surprise to the public since it was from “Our Lady with the Tear in Her Eye.” Dreyfus’ wife, at least, appreciated it and asked to see her as she was trying to rally support to prove his innocence. Séverine never answered the request, but she never regretted it; “there was too much money in their house,” too bourgeois for her liking; and besides she still had other fish to fry, other battles to fight. There was Armenia and Cuba and the insurrections in Algeria, not to mention the continuing battle of the disinherited at home in France.

Bernard Lazare and the Dreyfus family, especially his brother Mathieu, did not give up the fight and their determination paid off in more than one way. Firstly, a wave of anti-Semitism swept through France and split the citizens into two camps, the Dreyfusards who supported them and the anti-Dreyfusards, anti-Semites and monarchists who were pitted against them. Secondly, Lieutenant Colonel Picquart, the new director of the intelligence service, scrutinized the case and became interested in the figure of Major Esterhazy, an officer up to his neck in debts. Another document was found in the German Embassy that matched the handwriting of Dreyfus’ condemning evidence but it was obviously written by Esterhazy. If this truth came out it would discredit the army, a few high-ranking officers in particular, and strain the already uneasy relations with Germany. Therefore, Picquart was shipped off to Tunisia and thus military honor was saved. Except that before leaving Picquart confided his secret to the vice president of the Senate Auguste Scheuer-Kestner who assured him that Dreyfus would see his day in court across from Esterhazy. And so he did. Another speedy trial in January 1898 became major news this time and Esterhazy was deemed innocent. France was more divided than ever. The partisans of national security versus the defenders of truth and justice. The trial was clearly not fair, but it took Zola to muster the intellectuals and make it international.

It should be noted that the original Dreyfusards did not blame the army as a whole but rather a small clique of officers. They only wanted a fair and just trial. It was only later when the anti-Semitism and nationalism bloomed into anti-Republicanism and radical right-wing violence that the anti-militarism sprang forth in reprisal.

On January 13 1898 in L’Aurore Emile Zola risked his career and published “J’accuse!” addressed to the president of the republic, which would become famous worldwide. The man who often wrote but never acted politically turned vehement and combative. He, too, had first believed in Dreyfus’ guilt, but he was disgusted by the hatred he witnessed. And now a travesty of justice was on hand. Anatole France stood beside him and Séverine joined their ranks with many others. Zola was dragged into court for accusing the army generals of anti-Semitism and of deliberately and of knowingly convicting an innocent man. Support poured in from all over the world, from Leo Tolstoy in Russia to Mark Twain in the United States, but the opposition was too strong. There were terrible demonstrations of anti-Semites screaming Death to Jews, Long Live the Homeland, Long Live the Army, Down with Zola! And so on February 23 1898 after a dramatic trial Zola was sentenced to one year in prison and a 3,000 F fine. Perreux, the editor of L’Aurore was given the same fine but only four months in prison. Without question and without packing Zola beat a hasty retreat to London.

Séverine was no babe in the woods when it came to the judiciary machine. After her battles for Duval and Vaillant and the rest, she had a long habit of the gavel, robes and wigs and she knew the power that the pen could wield as well as the dangers that could result. When she answered in her turn in an article calling for the truth to come out she was attacked by an armed assailant, barely escaping with her life, disconcerted but not at all discouraged. Her involvement in the affair was not so much in support of the officer himself, but against all the lies and hypocrisy. Guilty or innocent was not the issue, it was the violation of justice that outraged her.


How I Interviewed the Pope

Pope Leo XIII, 1810 - 1903, born Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, after the painting by Theobold Chartran exhibited in the Champs-Elysees Salon of 1892. From La Ilustracion Española y Americana, published 1892.

Pope Leo XIII, 1810 – 1903, born Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, after the painting by Theobold Chartran exhibited in the Champs-Elysees Salon of 1892. From La Ilustracion Española y Americana, published 1892.


How I Interviewed the Pope[1]


Hey, come on! All this noise for such a simple thing? So much excitement because the vicar of Christ, imitating his Master, allowed a visit from if not his little children at least one whose thoughts (a naïve flock) timidly approach everyone’s Father, the white Pastor of Christianity?

And so much anger, too, against both the Sovereign Pontiff who trampled etiquette under the heel of his mule and dared to revive the serene, evangelical tradition, and against this newspaper “that is not a sanctuary”, has bitterly invaded the neighboring sacristies—and against me, as well, a humble woman who was doing her job conscientiously and not really expecting any attack to come from what she did.

I had not taken into account the “professionals”, more papist than the Pope; those for whom he is less a chief than a commodity; who allow him to be understood by no one but themselves or do not allow him to voice any opinion that contradicts theirs—an opinion so reduced, so faded, so shrunk, so made in their image when it reaches the public that he does not turn his head to listen or see, being apathetic to such a pale reflection and weak echo.

Leo XIII is the prisoner only of his enemies!

And some of those who call themselves his servants really seem to be bent on perpetuating the antagonism that saddens him, on veiling him in shadow, on forbidding him any relation with the crowd of people who look up to him and reach out to him. Their intolerance mounts a jealous guard around him whom their mission is to defend and not to isolate.

They prefer, it seems, the Pope to be unknown instead of popular, remote instead of revealed. Their selfishness adapts to what their duty should want to see abolished—like the judges whom the end of crime, the return of the Golden Age would put out of work in a new society and so they acclimate themselves to it.

Of course, in this criticism I do not mean to include the whole Catholic press, a part of which, in this present case, has been extremely courteous and absolutely loyal. But it is impossible not to be alarmed at seeing the devious resentment that some piously restrained papers show because I spoke of Leo XIII with respect and sympathy in a popular newspaper and because I gave a portrait of him that I certainly believe true and might even bring him closer to people.

Insulted rather than praised—that seems to be the watchword of these strange papal partisans. And then the almost imperceptible campaign begins, quite petty in any case, of innuendoes, hesitations, hints and insinuations.

How can you not say that I lied; maybe I “amplified”, mistranslated, altered… Or maybe it was the telegraph transmission… And while some declare that they will forget about the Pope for the anti-Semite proscription if he does not want to make one, others criticize Saint Peter’s Bankroll—asserting that he is the product of huge donations even though one just has to look at the parish accounts to see how rare are the big offerings but how frequent the little coins—while the “faithful” of the Holy Father reprimand him, I naturally have my role in their bad mood and my account of little offenses.


I was not troubled any more than was reasonable.

Certainly when I undertake and especially when I succeed in some difficult task, let’s even say unusual given the goal of my trip and the nature of my opinions, I have to figure on rampant spite. I put myself at risk and it is only fair. I do not know how, without falling into ridicule, to not suffer it with good grace.

When the Spectator, in a brilliant column, full of Attic style, conjures up the risqué aspect of my move—I’m the first one to smile and marvel at these fireworks, even if my seriousness feels a little burned. When Messieurs Pichon, Pelletan and Lepelletier, the lay trinity, unleash or declare anathema on my impertinent head, the cheeky Sicambrian[2], I almost feel cheerful. Messieur de Kerohant attacks me by treating me as a libertarian, which is pretty nasty when I am only defending, isolated and alone, and sometimes taking sides with its ides, Free Thought! And when the Triboulet says that I am burning to pour petrol in the cellars—I who forgive all excess for which poverty is both the cause and the absolution but do not allow myself, even for this, to commit any—I admit I remain indifferent to its fantasy.

All this, or nearly all, remains in the domain of judgment. If it is fair, so much the better! If it is unfair, so much the worse! But when we enter the domain of facts, it is something else.

And although I prefer to stay calm and cool, now I have to drop it. Point by point I am going to respond very clearly.


I did not arrive in Rome with “letters of recommendation.” Only one reference had been sent from Paris at the same time that I requested a justifiable audience, which I addressed to His Eminence Cardinal Rampolla, as follows:

July 9 1892


I would like to request, through your intercession, a private audience with His Holiness.

Who am I? My name will mean something to you. It is that of a servant of the poor following your law; of a woman who was Christian and remembers it to love the children and defend the weak; of a socialist who, although not in a state of grace, has kept intact in her wounded soul a deep respect for the faith and veneration of the august elders and captive sovereignty.

The pen that is writing to you, accustomed to other defenses, has more than once, even against its political coreligionists, dared to affirm its independent admiration for His Holiness’ concern for the disinherited of this world.

It is this Vatican policy, so true to Christ’s spirit, so encouraging for those who dream of fraternity, so Christian in the most sublime aspect of the word, that has suggested to me the idea of coming to Saint Peter’s successor to attempt what no Catholic has dreamt of doing—and the audacity to write to Your Eminence.

I am sent by the Figaro, accredited by Monsieur Magnard, its editor-in-chief, to request His Holiness to make a statement on the question that is again threatening to divide men, to sow discord and hatred among them, to spill blood in fratricidal battles.

I would like His Holiness to deign to make a statement on anti-Semitism, convinced as I am that after He has spoken there will be no more Christians to rebel against His view.

Finally I desire personally, if it is possible, to make a favorable portrait of Leo XIII in writing as my compatriot Monsieur Chartran did in painting.

I pray to Your Eminence that my wish be granted; my fate is in your hands.

With all due respect, etc.



And here is the response:


I received your letter of this past 9th and showed it to the Holy Father. His Holiness sees no difficulty in accepting a private audience with you, as soon as you will let Him know, through my intercession, when you will arrive so that He can accommodate your wishes. It is important, therefore, that you inform my of your arrival so that I can organize the audience that is the purpose of the your trip.

Meanwhile, I will take this opportunity to assure you of my respectful sentiments.

Cardinal Rampolla.

Rome July 15 1892


So, I got on the road, not absolutely certain of success but with some reason to hope and wishing it with all my heart, not for my ego but to do something beautiful and good—if possible!

I was not “received in a simple audience like the Pope grants all pilgrims.” I had not come on a pilgrimage. I was sent by the Figaro with a specific goal and that was how I saw the Holy Father. One detail alone will suffice to show the significance of this reception: I entered the room where Leo XIII was present at 12:15 and I left at 1:25—after an hour and ten minute interview.

Finally, my visit took place on Sunday, July 31. I used the rest of the day to write down my impressions right away because I feared the shadow of error and worried about any false interpretation… I would say a false intonation! And the following Monday at 11 o’clock sharp I gave to Monseigneur Rampolla—the head of Christianity after the Pope—my entire article concerning Him, portrait and interview, from the words “Very pale, very straight, very thin…” all the way to my signature.

The minister of State asked me remove four lines of personal judgment of the kind that might raise difficulties for the Holy See. I did so voluntarily. And the copy that left the Vatican that day is such as appeared here without a syllable—I swear to it—being changed.

This is my response to the scandalized members of the Catholic press, to the Pharisees who prefer to deny rather than to believe and who would recrucify Jesus for being improper if he came back to us in his poor robe of whiten linen, barefoot on the rocky road, bowing down to the poor, consoling the afflicted…

They make your gentle benediction, Holy Father, heavy to bear and your effect on souls they would snatch away—unless we remember you!


[1] Le Figaro, August 9 1892.

[2] Ancient Germanic peoples who became Franks, the Celtic ancestors of the French.

The Pope and Anti-Semitism




The Pope and Anti-Semitism:  Interview with Leo XIII[1]


Séverine is at this moment in Rome where she went on behalf of the Le Figaro to ask His Holiness Leo XIII what must be thought of the issue of anti-Semitism. The project, which seduced us with its originality and which we left, of course, all liberty to the author to develop, is well worthy of this very curious page here from the Sovereign Pontiff in the Vatican and his very interesting papal declarations.

Wired from Rome on August 3 1892.

Since anti-Semitism claims to be orthodox and tends to present itself if not inspired by, at least emanating from the Church, it seemed to me terribly interesting to go to consult the supreme head of the Church, he who blames and forgives, the incontestable pilot of Catholic conscience.

I did not go to ask the Holy Father to make a pronouncement—the Pope’s political situation would forbid him this, as it does from every debate where his veto is not immediately necessary and from every intercession that might raise arguments or polemics and upset such and such power or such and such party beyond strictly technical questions on points of dogma or matters of faith. In a word, I was not trying to know what Leo XIII condemned… only what he did not endorse.

And there, right up front, is a casuistry that I am not used to. I usually prefer clarity to such subtle distinctions—but such is the way at the Court of Rome!

Everything here proceeds in halftones, barely revealed nuances and gradations, rarely surpassing the midpoint on the scale rising toward intensity. At the Vatican, just as in the dark rooms where everyone walks with muted footsteps and talks in muffled voices, so too everyone thinks in whispers. Steps slow down and eagerness folds its wings, voluntarily, forcing itself to develop within the narrow framework of the ecclesiastical domain.

Hence, thundering radiance, soaring wonder, when there is an exception to the rule, a rupture of this reserve, a decisive action—it is done with repressed excitement, with restrained flight. Therefore, you must read between the lines, listen between the words…

I would be ashamed, I would consider it disgraceful and disloyal to attribute to the Holy Father a single word that was not absolutely exact or even to add to what he was pleased to answer. So, if he did not even once say to me, “I condemn”, but ten times in one hour said, “I do not approve,” I leave it to the Catholics to conclude what they want from this attitude.

For my part, beyond and despite my own opinions—maybe exactly because of them—I respect everything grand, even if it is opposed to my ideals or differs from them in a few points. And I would rather lose the best arguments in the world than give grief to those of this throneless king, this old man who is so touching and august, incapable of anathema, raising his right hand only to bless, absolve and spread the divine indulgence over all creatures, whatever their race, whatever their religion!


A brief parenthesis is called for here that will seem pointless to those who know me, but I still have to add, seeing fairly easily what kind of anti-Semite response will follow—after yesterday’s slander will come tomorrow’s slander.

Although I belong to the “cheap press” according to some sectarians and although I am—as everyone knows!—“corrupted” by rue Laffitte[2], I will be cynical enough to state that I have undertaken this of my own accord. I have not written this article “to order.” It was my project, as I sometimes have ideas that are my own and that I carry out because it pleases me… for the love of the art!

I allowed myself the unheard of luxury of taking mercy on the Jews without getting paid—the clarification of the term does not frighten me—by the Israelites… my socialism is not hung up on questions of belief or origins, its only enemy is the Grabber, yid or goy. He steals from the poor… that’s good enough for me!

And I am with all the poor: lamentable Hebrews wandering in the steppes, crossing Europe on foot, like beasts of burden dragging their carts on which their elderly sick are piled; their children and some rags escaped from disaster, battered and broken down in the court of the Chief Rabbi of Paris, completely exhausted, staggering and starved—poor wretches plundered by the Catholic financiers over there like the farmers and workers of Christendom are plundered by their wealthy coreligionists here.

How can we talk about a race war or a religious war?

“I’m hungry,” says the poor man.

And an echo, broken and strained, but still haughty, answers from the Vatican: “All the goods of nature, all the treasures of grace belong in common and indistinctly to all of mankind” (Encyclical of May 15 1891, chapter III).


I arrived here without references and without support. I had no ally but my stubborn will and a letter from a comrade for a high dignitary of the Holy See. But I believe in that magnetism that works across distance and time, that shortens the one and removes the other, under the influence of an ardent will that impregnates the atmosphere between the goal and the effort, that brings them together, inevitably, without which we have nothing to do but hypnotize our dreams…

And here I am sitting in one of the rooms in the Vatican, lost in the huge space, me with my black dress, my black veil, my gloveless hands and not even the humblest jewelry, just like all the devout who come here only to satisfy their pious curiosity. Their hearts, certainly, are not beating as fast as mine—and yet God knows how calm it would be if my job happened to send me into the palace of any monarch. I know what scepters are worth and what crowns weigh under the heavy fist of the crowd or the light finger of destiny.

But the Pope! All the memories of my pious little childhood rise up like a flock of sparrows out of the grass in the cemetery. Just yesterday didn’t I say to the cleric who was explaining to me the ceremonial triple greeting (one at the door, one in the middle of the room and one in front of the Holy Father’s chair), “Like in the month of Mary[3], then?” recalling the time when I was on duty in the chapel, responsible for replacing the flowers and fomenting revolts—already!—between two Aves. He looked at me, pleasantly surprised, then with an indulgent nod, “Yes, like in the month of Mary.”

It is my great fear to commit some blunder. Not that I am bringing an ounce pride or worried about not knowing proper etiquette, but because any negligence—on my part— might be taken as offensive arrogance and in very bad taste. Also, I keep repeating the formulas, like repeating the catechism before the recital… in days gone by.

How huge the Vatican is to get to this little area where the Pope is confined to live. And how high up it is! You have to climb the front steps, march down the monumental gallery, stared at by the Swiss Guard who are dressed like the Reiters[4] of Julius II, climb the marble staircase—three floors that are really like six—enter the Cortile San Damaso, climb three more floors, also twice as big, and walk through so many rooms that it makes your head spin and you end up seeing nothing. I only caught a fleeting glimpse of a marvelous tapestry: Christ greeting the sinner woman huddled at his feet, looking for a refuge against human cruelty…

All of a sudden, in the solitude and silence, I hear cannon fire, as discordant as a wrong note. It tells the Romans that it is noon. And then in answer, one after another, like old ladies scampering off to mass, all the clocks in the palace chime. There are loud ones and slow ones, lively and tired ones, little ones with shrill tones and big ones with contraltos. It is a familiar carillon with naïve grace.

Footsteps slide over the marble, which glistens like it was water; a barely audible whisper in that melodious idiom; a soutane bows and waits, then walks in front, bows lower at the threshold of the next room and is gone, as if he vanished into the wall…

It is my turn for the audience.

I enter and bow three times. A hand takes hold of mine and raises me up gently.

“Sit down, my daughter, and welcome…”


Very pale, very straight, very thin, not very much to be seen of the earthly matter in that sheath of white cloth, the Holy Father sits at the end of the room in a huge armchair backed against a shelf with a dolorous Christ atop.

The light coming from the front falls perpendicular on the admirable face, drawing out the planes, the modeled sharpness, the “primitive” structure in the pictorial sense of the word, invigorated, animated, galvanized so to speak by such a young, vibrant soul so combative for the good, so understanding of moral miseries, so sympathetic to physical suffering that his gaze is as stunning as a miraculous dawn rising over a sunset.

The incomparable portrait by Chartran[5] can only give a hint of the intensity of his gaze. But still there is a rather splendid brilliance and all the crimson that blazes behind the snow-white soutane puts a glow in his cheeks, a sparkle in his eyes that mellows in reality. To express my impression I would say that I found the Pope “more white”, with a radiance more intimate and more moving; less the sovereign and more the apostle—almost the elder. A tender, timid bounty, it would seem, lurks in his frown and is only betrayed in his smile. At the same time, his long, sturdy nose reveals the will, the inflexible will—that knows how to wait!

Leo XIII is like one of those models of Le Pérugin[6] and like all those portraits of patrons that we see in the paintings of sanctity in the windows of ancient cathedrals, kneeling, in profile, dressed in wool, with elongated fingers humbly clasped together, at the apotheosis, the nativity, the triumph of the holy and the glory of God.

He also seems to me to incarnate the coat of arms of his family, the blazon of Pecci, with his slim, stately stature like a pine fir that stands like an “I” against the blue sky and beneath his eyelids that morning-star brightness, harbinger of the dawn, fluttering at the summit of the grand heraldic tree.

But what attracts and holds your attention almost as much as his face are his hands, long, slender, diaphanous hands whose purity of design is incomparable. Hands that, with their agate nails, look like they belong to a precious ivory ex-voto brought out of its case for some celebration.

His voice sounds like it comes from a distance, exiled by use in prayer, more accustomed to rise toward heaven than to fall upon us. And yet in conversation it comes back with an occasional reminder of that more serious tone that cuts off its Gregorian chant. Then a trifle, a local accent spices his remarks with a peculiar, national flavor. Although the pontiff expresses himself very correctly, very eloquently in French, that ultimate Italian exclamation “Ecco!” (There you are!) keeps popping up; he slaps out these two syllables like a little whip that spurs on or turns aside the conversation. And then his gentle words start to take off, stray, go wherever the Holy Father wants to go.


I follow him respectfully, keeping in mind as we go the answers he wants to give me, prompting them with brief questions when I can, noticing how much his thought, always with an evangelical essence, willingly dons the Latin peplos to be translated into harmonious, rhythmic sentences, revealing the thoughtful and erudite man of letters.

When I spoke of Jesus pardoning his executioners, alleging their ignorance as an excuse for their savageness, when I asked if, above all, it was not a Christian duty to imitate his example:

“Christ,” Leo XIII says, “spilled his blood for all men, without exception; and even in preference for those who do not believe in him and persist in this ignorance and so need to be redeemed all the more. For them he left a mission to his Church: lead them to the truth…”

“By persuasion or persecution, Holy Father?”
“By persuasion!” the Pontiff answers ardently. “The work of the Church is only kindness and fraternity. It is error that it must get hold of and strive to bring down. But any violence to people is contrary to the will of God, to his teachings, to the character that I have donned, to the power that I have at my disposal.”

“So, the religious war?”
“The two words do not go together!” And the hand that wears the episcopal ring makes a categorical gesture.

“There remains, Holy Father, the race war…”

“What races? All of them came from Adam, whom God created. What does it matter if individuals, depending on their latitudes, do not have the same skin color or do not look the same seeing that their souls have the same essence, imbued with the same ray? If we send missionaries among the infidels, heretics and savages, it is because all humans, all of them, you understand, are God’s creatures! There are some that are fortunate enough to have the faith and others to whom it is our duty to give it, that’s all! They are equal before the Lord since their existence is the work of his common will.”

Then the pontiff adds, “Even when there was a Ghetto in Rome, our priests went everywhere there, talking with the Israelites, doing their utmost to know their needs, taking care of their sick, striving to inspire enough trust to discuss the texts and finally to convert them!”

“And when the people wanted to massacre the Jews?”
“The Jews put themselves under the protection of the Pope… and the Pope spread his protection over them!”


“Except,” the Holy Father resumes, “if the Church is an indulgent mother with ever-open arms for those who come to it just like for those who come back, it does not follow that the impious who refuse it should be its favorites. It is not angry with them; they are its sorrow, its wound, but it keeps its preference for the faithful who console it, who are its pious and fervent sons. So, in the end, if the Church has a mission to defend the weak, it also has a mission to defend itself against every effort to oppress her. And now after so many other plagues, the reign of money has come…”

The successor to Saint Peter straightens up his stiff chest even more and with a sudden hardness in his eyes says, “They want to conquer the Church and rule the people with money! Neither the Church nor the people will let them do it!”
“So, Holy Father, the grand Jews?”
Under the veil of his eyelids the sparkle has gone. And suddenly fading his voice responds, “I am with the simple, the humble, the dispossessed, those whom Our Lord loved…”

I understand that this subject is closed and I do not press it. Moreover, now Leo XIII is talking about France, about the deep feelings he has for it, about his desire to see it prosper under whatever government it chooses. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, with a little mischief in the corners of his mouth and in his eyes, “And your people, what do they think of the Pope? Are they happy with him?”
“Holy Father…” Because I do not know what to say, truthfully.

He sees my confusion and with good-heartedness, rubbing his hands, “Come, come, don’t be afraid.”

I build up my courage and say, “Holy Father, would you allow me to use a very brazen word toward you?”

“Go on, go on!”

“Well, although the monarchists are upset with the Pope, the republicans in the government loathe him… it’s a ‘competition’!”

The word is greeted with a little laugh, very hushed, very discreet. “And the socialists?”

“For the socialists in the government, the leaders, more competition.”

“And the people?”
“The people? I never allow myself to speak in their name. They are rather undecided, I believe, a little distrustful… they’ve been deceived so often! But still, a Pope who cared for them… and suppressed the cardinals would surprise them!”

The long pale hands made a satisfied gesture. Then, smiling, “However, I do not want to be king of France! (sic)”


Now, as I dare not interrupt him, his thin voice, alone, breaks the silence. “So when will they all understand that the Church does not want and has nothing to do with politics, that it listens and stays outside, keeps well away from it? My master said: My kingdom is not of this earth. Therefore, mine is not either! I aspire to the dominion of souls because I want their salvation, because I desire the kingdom of brotherhood among men, the repression of discord, the advent of holy peace, holy mercy! And nothing but this… only this!”

The tall, old man is almost standing up and his eyes, even more luminous, are shaded in mist. He stays quiet. So, very quickly, almost in a whisper, pleased as I was to hear something good about France, in this city officially full of other tendencies, I say, “Holy Father, you know Abbot Jacot[7], that renegade from Alsace-Lorraine, who preaches to our people over there, your spokesperson? Is it true? Do you approve of what he does?”
“I find it regrettable,” the pontiff answers solemnly. “I love France. I am always looking toward it when I speak from the depths of these rooms where I have wandered for fifteen years… without ever leaving!”

“Without ever leaving!” he repeats melancholically, this captive without straw or dungeon, this prisoner of his lonely dignity, but more shackled by his invisible bonds than by heavy chains of iron.

I bow to take my leave. The long pale hand poses gently on my forehead: “Go, my child, and may God watch over you!”


[1] Le Figaro, August 4 1892.

[2] Off Boulevard des Italiens in the 9th arrondisement in Paris.

[3] The month of May in the Catholic Church is consecrated to the Virgin Mary.

[4] Cavalry formed in the 16th century and widely used in religious wars.

[5] Théobald Chartran (1849-1907), French painter whose portraits included such famous figures as Sarah Bernhardt and Theodore Roosevelt and whose caricatures appeared in Vanity Fair.

[6] Pietro Perugino (1450-1523) was an Italian Renaissance artist famous for his religious paintings.

[7] Auguste Jacot (1845-1919), germanophile priest awarded the Order of the Red Eagle by Wilhelm II in September 1892.

12-Pope Leo XIII



The crisis of conscience that Séverine faced in 1892 over the rising tide of “terrorist” attacks, both by the militant revolutionaries and by the authorities, was coupled with another more personal crisis, a mystical crisis that would haunt her for years to come. We can sometimes feel mystical accents peeking through her writings, but they never strained her morality, which always came from her conscience and not from any ideas handed down by acceptable society. How could they when she was openly having an affair with Labruyère while still married to Adrien Guebhard? For Séverine everyone had the right to live according to their own beliefs and so she always fought fiercely against fanaticism, both religious and political, sometimes even more fiercely when it came from within her own camp. But her fight was never against any one dogma or party—it was against all intolerance and injustice, regardless of social standing, religion, nationality or gender.

At the end of the 19th century, anti-Semitism was a growing problem that was about to explode in the famous Dreyfus Affair[1] and that would mutate, as we all know, into the hideous monster of Nazism in the 20th century. The campaign that was spreading in France in the 1890s was already a deep concern. Pope Leo XIII had apparently condemned this developing anti-Semitism in his Encyclical of May 15 1891, ch. III, which stipulates: All the goods of nature, all the treasures of grace belong in common and indistinctly to the entire human race. Although his predecessor, Puis IX, in his Syllabus errorum, the Syllabus of Errors, in 1864 condemned the “errors” of secular society, notably democracy, socialism, modernism, the right to vote, freedom of religion and the separation of Church and State, Leo XIII came into office with more liberal social views. But while trying to reconcile the Church with the modern world and for the first time addressing issues of social inequality and labor, he still denounced socialism, anarchism, nihilism, communism and capitalism alike as societal evils. Some anarchists, like Kroptkin, back in 1879, had even advocated using propaganda by deed against him. Then Séverine got the crazy idea that she would interview the Pope to find out his opinion on anti-Semitism.

Now, Séverine never believed in God or the Church or life after death. Basically she was a socialist, if not an anarchist as many would have called her because her socialism was not limited by any party or school of philosophy. She fought in the ranks of the people, the poor. She was the voice of thousands of anonymous workers sweating their lives away trying to survive. She supported them always and never apologized for it, whoever might be standing in the ring when the bell sounded. And this rebel wanted to interview the Pope? Le Figaro was astonished when she asked them to finance the trip, but more so when she was accepted by the Vatican. After being the first Parisienne to descend into the mines on the day after an explosion, she was now the first “socialist” journalist to receive a private audience with the Pope. A sign of the times, perhaps, that they would choose this anti-establishment dissenter to explain to the French the encyclical Rerum novarum and the new social doctrine of the Church.

On July 15 1892, just a few days after Ravachol was executed, she headed to Rome in company with her aged mother. The interview took place on Sunday July 31, lasting an hour and ten minutes. It was published on August 4 and was a sensation. The readers of the special edition might have been struck with awe or dismay, depending on their sensibilities, but no one could deny Séverine’s feat in bringing back these “very curious pages.” Although Pope Leo XIII did not say much specifically about the plight of the poor, he did condemn anti-Semitism implicitly and clearly, in his denunciation of the race war. Furthermore, Séverine brought back from the Vatican a message of tolerance and mutual understanding that the Catholics were free to accept. As history would tell, however, the message was lost and the messenger decried.


[1] See 17-19.