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Dreyfus in America: A Pictorial Romance.

The notorious scandal of injustice known as the Dreyfus Affair triggered an antisemitic reaction in France in the late nineteenth century, a subject thoroughly studied and analyzed by a multitude of scholars. The Affair exposed an atavistic tribalism in what had seemed one of the most civilized and advanced of modern nations founded on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. French Jews, an integrated and mostly secular minority, became the victims of libelous charges of racial hatred stemming from anxieties and fears of modernization. Much of this vitriol played out in the French press in the form of an astonishing array of visual material--cartoons, posters, magazine covers, and so forth--that inflamed existing prejudice against Jews in general and Dreyfus in particular. A major exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York City in 1987-88, curated by Norman Kleeblatt, brought together a wide range of French visual artifacts related to Dreyfus for the first time, accompanied by an excellent catalog with essays by Kleeblatt, Linda Nochlin, and others. (1) Since then scholars have delved deep into the material, publishing an array of books and articles that document the moment that marked, to a great degree, the birth of popular culture in France. (2)

The Dreyfus story, surprisingly, proved riveting also to American readers, who followed the twists and turns of the legal case and the fate of Alfred Dreyfus in newspapers and magazines across the country. The American reaction to the scandal has been written about by Egal Feldman and a few others, (3) but the visual evidence, in contrast to the French, has gone unexamined. The unambiguous sympathy of Americans toward this unlikely leading man (bespectacled, bland, unemotional) stands in sharp contrast to French antisemitic attitudes. This sympathy, in both written and visual forms, also serves as a complicating factor in understanding American attitudes toward Jews at the end of the century. (4) This article will examine a selection from this body of visual evidence for the first time and suggest interpretations of both the difference between French and American biases and the perplexing contradictions within the American viewpoint on Jews.

Let us first review the facts of the case. (5) In December 1894, a secret memo came to light written by a French officer who was selling military secrets to the Germans. Any nation would have reacted strongly to foreign espionage, but France was particularly sensitive to the possibility of German interference in the wake of its embarrassing defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The French government deemed it imperative to act swiftly and decisively in defense of the nation. The suspicions of the military high command quickly settled on army captain Alfred Dreyfus, given his access to classified information. In addition, he was Jewish and unpopular within the department. There was no evidence to implicate him, though, and he had no motive. He was the rich scion of an Alsatian Jewish family who had prospered in the textile industry, so he would not need the money. Further, he was a husband and the father of two young children, thus unlikely to take such a risk.

After the annexation of Alsace to the Germans in 1871, the Dreyfus family had moved to France as an affirmation of their patriotic allegiance to a nation founded on Les Droits de l'Homme, and they lived in the genteel, secular manner of the French bourgeoisie. Dreyfus pursued a career in the military out of patriotism, and he assumed that he could succeed in an organization that had become more meritocratic. Nevertheless, he was convicted of the crime of espionage in a closed trial with the use of some fabricated "evidence." After the humiliation of his military degradation (public stripping of badges and breaking of sword), he was shipped off to Devil's Island in January 1895 to serve out a life sentence.

Alfred's brother Mathieu and a few outspoken allies from the military began a long fight for the court to grant a retrial, but it was not until the publication in January 1898 of a dramatic editorial by Emile Zola, the French realist novelist, known as "J'Accuse...!," that these efforts began to gain traction. Zola's full-page reconsideration of the "facts" revealed to the public for the first time the true story of the government's hypocrisy and its shameful cover-up. Zola's bold accusations precipitated a huge public reaction that split the nation between sympathetic supporters and antisemitic detractors. The majority of public involvement with the case, and the histrionic press coverage, dates primarily from the time of "J'Accuse...!" and continued through Dreyfus's second trial (August-September 1899). Dreyfus's conviction was upheld in this second trial, in spite of a confession from the real culprit, Officer Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, and the recent suicide of Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert-Joseph Henry, whose forging of false evidence had been exposed. French public interest in the case eventually tailed off after Dreyfus's release in late 1899. (The government did not, however, exonerate him until 1906.)

The overwhelmingly positive sentiment during this time in support of Dreyfus, who appears as the tragic hero of a thrilling and scandalous political drama, radiates from the imagery in American press coverage. Minor figures in the story were the subject of full-page pieces in leading newspapers. Obscure French government and military officials became household names, their faces known. The American infatuation with Dreyfus spread beyond the press into more diverse forms of cultural expression. (6) Most astonishing of these was the serial publication in Boston of a deeply flattering and heavily fictionalized recounting of the story, titled Eternally Parted: The Terrible Fate of Captain Dreyfus and His Faithful Wife, which ultimately ran to over thirteen hundred pages replete with dramatic illustrations. (7) (This primary source, a complete set of which is held in the Houghton Library archives at Harvard University, has never before been written about. It was published in Boston in 1900.)

Each volume, which includes several chapters, begins with the same beautiful cover illustration (fig. 1). A dramatic rendering of the title dominates the top third of the page, headed with the large black lettering of "Eternally Parted," underscored by an extravagant "X." Beneath, set in smaller, rounded type, reads "or The Terrible Fate of," and under that, on a curved and fluttering banner, the name "Captain Dreyfus," in simple, unadorned white lettering to signify innocence. The same lettering for "and His Faithful Wife" complete the title, which is embellished by curling vines and a scalloped shell under the word "Wife." The image shows Dreyfus in full military garb sitting on a carved wooden chair facing forward, with his wife prostrate across his lap, hands clasped, and face buried in her arms. Her distress is caused by the entrance into their house of another military officer who points an accusatory stick at Dreyfus. Dreyfus looks up while gripping the side of the chair and raises his other hand in a gesture of surprise. Two other soldiers stand guard just outside the door.

The elements of this cover are anything but a straightforward telling of fact. Instead they convey a sympathetic interpretation of the events through a host of editorial choices. First, the title of the series--Eternally Parted: The Terrible Fate of Captain Dreyfus and His Faithful Wife--frames the entire story in terms of the painful cost paid by the Dreyfus family and completely omits any reference to espionage. The title implies that Dreyfus is innocent and must pay a dreadful price for his false conviction. Second, the artist chose to place the viewer within the cozy interior of the Dreyfus house, adorned with fringed curtains, attractive furnishings, and a shelf with books and a vase. Thus the viewer naturally identifies with the Dreyfuses and not the intruding French officers. Third, the officer who has entered the room appears quite sorry to be carrying out this task as seen in his regretful facial expression and tentative body language. He closely resembles Dreyfus, with the same uniform and mustache, implying that Dreyfus is a typical French officer and not a deviant type, as the French illustrators implied with their gross caricatures. Further, Dreyfus himself looks neat, handsome, and well groomed. He shields his wife from the accuser with his body and raised hand, and in so doing earns her "faith" and loyalty, an important characteristic to emphasize considering the charge. The most dramatic aspect of this image is surely the miserable Madame Dreyfus whose swoon hints at the melodramatic story told within the publication.

The story presented within Eternally Parted strays almost completely from the historical facts and, in tone and style, resembles popular sensationalist periodicals of the late nineteenth century. The illustrations both on the cover and within--melodramatic and bland at the same time (faces tend toward the generic)--look like those from a lurid crime newspaper such as the Illustrated Police News, published in Boston from 1860 to 1904. That weekly periodical claimed to "report" the news but presented primarily salacious human-interest stories, the more outlandish the better. Cover illustrations were designed to grab the attention of the reader with heightened emotion shown through exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. In this age of "yellow journalism," great competition among newspapers encouraged overdramatized and downright false reporting, facts aside.

Pulp magazines, which began to proliferate by the end of the century, fed the growing appetite for popular stories and were openly fictional. Frank Munsey's Argosy, a weekly magazine, was the first of the type, serving as a model, perhaps, for Eternally Parted, with its eye-catching cover art and gripping tales. Dime novels provide another parallel. Popular since the mid-nineteenth century, they had shifted in theme from Western tales to urban crime stories by the 1880s. These narratives featured larger-than-life men who prevailed through physical courage and force of will. One such, titled The Jew Detective, written by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham in 1891, features cover art that looks remarkably similar in style to that in Eternally Parted, and stars a noble and principled Jewish protagonist.

Eternally Parted must be understood within this field of popular literature so familiar to American readers at the turn of the century. Although based on a series of historical events, the story told within its pages bears a tenuous relationship to truth at best. The pages tell a bloodcurdling tale of Dreyfus's travails, and feature a spurned mistress, a dead child, a woman rising from her grave, and more stunners than can be easily summarized. (8) For example, in plate 17 Dreyfus, bathed in light, embraces Hermance tenderly within the confines of his prison cell. (Madame Dreyfus, inexplicably, is called Hermance in the narrative.) (9) The caption reads '"My dearly beloved wife,' said Captain Dreyfus, fondly stroking her hair, 'do not despair.'" Yet this never occurred because, in reality, Lucie's visits were "severely circumscribed." When she was finally permitted to visit her husband in prison after his conviction and degradation, they "had to be in the presence of the Governor who would place himself between Dreyfus and his wife, and Dreyfus was not allowed to approach her, let alone embrace her." (10)

Other illustrations show just how fanciful Eternally Parted was in its valorization of the unfortunate Frenchman. For example, there is a plate that shows Dreyfus aboard the ship en route to Devil's Island, taking a stand against the cruel ship captain. To the surprise of the sailors, he dramatically tosses a cat-o'-nine-tails overboard that had been used by the captain to whip an older man tied to the mast. The truth of his transport to Devil's Island was far bleaker though, as Dreyfus was confined below deck in a cell for the arduous journey. (11) Another dramatic scene that departs entirely from reality shows Dreyfus in exile attacking a criminal, and is captioned "Dreyfus administers a terrible blow upon the multi-murderers [sic] head." (12)

Why the need to fictionalize his story like this, to represent Dreyfus as a tragic hero, when the truth was even more heartbreaking? The likely explanation is twofold. First, a fully realized hero must act and not simply suffer. The sympathetic French illustrations go only so far, representing Dreyfus as a passive victim. This can be seen on the July 10, 1898 cover of Le Petit Journal in which Marianne, symbol of the French Republic, dominates the court as a fierce judge, trying to impose order on an unruly mob of politicians and journalists as a diminutive Dreyfus sits behind a podium, overwhelmed by the chaos. Although not denigrated by an antisemitic caricature, Dreyfus looks powerless and completely inconsequential. In Eternally Parted, by contrast, Dreyfus directs his own story and comes across as a dashing protagonist who can be admired, not just pitied.

Second, pulp fiction was by definition highly sensationalized to sell exciting stories to hungry readers and, although there are shocking and even theatrical aspects to the trial and degradation, the four years of exile make for a boring narrative. Thus the author created many exotic adventures for Dreyfus out of whole cloth and even attempted to add drama to his tedious internment. One plate, for example, illustrates Dreyfus literally blessed by the appearance in his jail cell of a saint. As divine light floods through the barred window directly upon the prisoner, the saint raises one hand to heaven and lays the other on Dreyfus's shoulder. '"You too Captain Dreyfus,' he exclaims pathetically. 'You should not despair'" reads the histrionic caption. (The irony of a saint appearing to comfort a Jew is for modern readers alone, it seems.) Chained and lonely, Dreyfus is otherwise splendid with perfect posture, pressed uniform, and gleaming boots.

All in all, Eternally Parted transformed Dreyfus's role in history into that of a daring hero who strides the globe flexing his moral and physical strength in a wide range of scenarios. The plurality of images in which Dreyfus exhibits physical courage is especially notable considering antisemitic notions of Jews as physically weak and cowardly. That it ran to so many weekly serial publications (ninety-five issues in all) attests to the popularity of Dreyfus and the desire to imagine a glorious alternate reality for him that thrilled his supporters.

The noble hero of a thrilling story should look the part, and American newspapers satisfied this requirement with depictions of Dreyfus that are more handsome, more Romantic, and less Semitic than he actually was. Almost all of the American representations of Dreyfus are either enhanced photographs or drawings based directly on photographic portraits, not the exaggerated cartoons favored by the French. (13) Most look like versions of a particular carte de visite portrait as well as illustrations based on this image. They show a slim and tidy officer in uniform, clear-eyed and determined. The photographs often appear retouched to give him a more youthful and idealistic appearance, and it is quite possible, even likely, that the original was taken years before when he was much younger. His skin looks fresh and utterly smooth, his lips plump, and his eyes dreamy. Even his chin appears more chiseled due to studio retouching in this, his "best photograph," as one newspaper claimed. When Americans thought of Dreyfus, therefore, they pictured this young, pleasant fellow, not a man approaching middle age as he was at the time of his arrest, let alone the gaunt, aged figure that he had become by 1899 when he was finally freed.

Perhaps the most flattering image of Dreyfus known to Americans is a drawing in the Boston Herald of October 30, 1898 (fig. 2), which is clearly based on that same original photograph. In the Boston Herald image, Dreyfus's head tilts up and to the side, bestowing an earnest, hopeful demeanor, and his mouth hints at a soft smile. The article's subtitle, "The Martyrdom of a Brave Officer," blatantly announces its sympathetic bias while also tacitly undermining the perception that Jews were physically weak and avoided military service. (14) The same picture illustrates a full-page article in The San Francisco Call as early as Sunday, December 5, 1897, a date that preceded Zola's "J'Accuse...!" by over a month. This article features an illustration of Dreyfus's military degradation that had originally graced the cover of the January 13, 1895, edition of Le Petit journal, a French publication rare in its relatively objective coverage of the Affair. (The title of the cover, "Le Traitre," reflects the widespread initial belief that Dreyfus was guilty of the crime. That said, the artist affords Dreyfus dignity in the face of humiliation.) At the bottom right is the flattering portrait enhanced with a watercolor wash. The Los Angeles Herald used the portrait (this time almost a full-body view) in a full-page collage of portraits of the main figures in the controversy. While the gentle-looking Dreyfus stands calmly in his usual three-quarter profile, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry, forger of incriminating evidence that led to conviction, glares menacingly at his victim.

Dreyfus's favorable makeover is surpassed by the complete transformation of his wife, Lucie, who appears in American newspapers as a beautiful, glamorous leading lady. The French press virtually ignored Lucie, mostly likely because she was an innocent victim of her husband's imprisonment whether he was guilty or not, and thus an inconveniently sympathetic figure. American newspapers, however, expressed their infatuation with this unhappy French woman through many sentimental articles illustrated with fashion plate-style portraits. She developed such a popular reputation, in fact, that she wrote several letters of thanks for this support directly to the American people at the beginning of Dreyfus's second trial that were published in various newspapers. One such letter, printed on August 8, 1899, in the New York World, reads: "To all my friends in America: We are all confident now that my husband will soon be declared innocent. From the first we have felt that injustice could not go on forever. Though I have no fears for the outcome, the next few days you will understand, will be days of weary waiting for me. I noticed the names of many ladies in the list of congratulations from America, and I wish to thank these ladies in a special and in the most sincere manner. Lucie Eugenie Dreyfus." (15) Alfred Dreyfus had his own letter to the American people published the same day in the New York Journal.

The most visually striking portrait of Lucie appeared in the New York World on June 10, 1899, just after Captain Dreyfus had left Devil's Island and was heading to France for his second trial (fig. 3). Renewed interest in the case and hope for his acquittal inspired a wave of supportive newspaper articles like this one. A full-page spread grabs the reader's attention with a bold headline that reads: "THE WOMEN IN THE DREYFUS CASE FOR AND AGAINST HIM." Below are seven overlapping, framed portraits of some of the main female players in the affair. Directly flanking Lucie in the center are the two least sympathetic of the group--Madame Girard, identified as "betrayer of the veiled lady," and the Vicomtesse Jouffroy d'Abbans, "Major Esterhazy's agent." (16) The latter, a "woman of varied career," as the text euphemistically describes her, is the only one of the seven who is not buttoned up to the neck. In fact, she appears to be wearing something far less conservative, such that no hint of any clothing can be seen in the picture--a sign of her low character. On the far left is Madame Pays, identified as "The Veiled Lady." Although the newspaper did not invent this moniker, it sounds right out of the tabloid-style writing of the period. Finally, of those against, we have Madame Henry, "Whose Husband Killed Himself." The text below affords her some sympathy because, although Lieutenant-Colonel Henry forged evidence against Dreyfus and later committed suicide in shame, she is presented as "admirable in her wifely loyalty," defending him posthumously for his supposedly noble character. Thus, unconditional love and support of her husband emerges as the most laudable of all virtues for a woman. Both Madame Labori, wife of Dreyfus's lawyer, and Madame Zola, wife of Dreyfus's most famous defender, also receive high praise in the text for their unquestioning support of their respective husbands.

Lucie, who excelled in spousal loyalty by any estimation, is represented not by a photograph, like all the others, but by an extremely flattering illustration, as if to present her as a beautiful tragic heroine of a romantic novel. Framed in an oval embellished with ribbons and floral garlands, she looks out from the center, her face young and beautiful. Had the real Lucie Dreyfus walked down the streets of New York in the late 1890s, no one would have recognized her, because she looked quite unlike these portraits. Though small waisted and elegantly dressed, Lucie had a rather plain face (as can be seen in her carte de visite dating from before the Affair) marked by small eyes, a downturned mouth, and hair pulled tightly back from her face. In a later photograph taken after the ordeal was over (undated, but clear from the captain's aged appearance) she sports another utilitarian hairdo and attempts a slight smile that seems to reveal protruding front teeth. The fictionalized image of youth and beauty that we see in this article better suited the desires of readers for a romantic lead.

The elaborate framing of the charming Lucie in the New York World piece suggests not a carte de visite studio photograph, like the other portraits shown, but instead a Victorian portrait miniature, or an open locket, a far more intimate format. (17) Portrait miniatures were frequently presented as gifts of friendship, loyalty, and love, and thus exude tenderness and sentimentality. The text below makes this visual implication explicit: "No finer example of a wifely love, of perfect trust, can be conceived of than Lucie Dreyfus has shown throughout an ordeal which must have destroyed a less noble character." For the growing female readership in the late nineteenth century, Lucie would have been a compelling example of female heroism accessible to virtually any married woman: unwavering spousal loyalty and steadfast virtue in the face of hardship.

If anyone deserved a prize for steadfast virtue in the face of hardship it would have been Captain Dreyfus himself of course, who survived four years of isolation and misery on Devil's Island due to strength of character as well as the support of his wife and brother. (Although he corresponded with both, he was not allowed to learn anything at all about his case because his correspondence was strictly censored.) Unsurprisingly, the comparatively few French representations of this topic distort his experience into something of a vacation instead of the harshest form of punishment, and were designed to elicit feelings of disgust, or at least to quash any sympathy for the prisoner. For example, a French postcard, one of the very few French treatments of this subject, depicts Dreyfus "En Villegiature a L'Ile du Diable" ("On Holiday on Devil's Island"). Dressed in a beautiful suit and tie, he lounges at the beach, cigar in one hand and fruit and wine ready to be enjoyed. At his feet lie two logs arranged into a cross, an obvious reference to the age-old charge of deicide. Even the more restrained French illustrators imagined him in better living conditions than he experienced in reality, supplying him with good quality clothes, an umbrella, writing material, and so forth. While not paradise, it does not look too bad. Similarly, the cover of Le Petit Journal from September 27, 1896, seems to imply that the main hardship Dreyfus faced over his four years of confinement was boredom.

Tellingly, American papers were drawn to the subject of Dreyfus's imprisonment, and many articles featured illustrations of the miserable conditions in which he was held, at times exaggerating the cruelty of his punishment. Many depict the interior of the hut as cheerless and barren, the most heartbreaking of which represents Dreyfus in a cramped room chained by the ankle to his bed--a punishment in fact imposed upon him after rumors of an escape plot reached the ears of French officials. Dreyfus looks gaunt and unshaven with a pained look on his face as he tries to rest. His foot sticks out from under the blanket at the end of the bed, confronting the viewer with the absurdity of chaining up a nonviolent man on a remote, uninhabited island. Some drawings emphasize the oppressively tiny scale of his hut by including in the view the much larger and nicer guardhouse, shown with a gun sticking out of its watchtower.

The inhumanity of being shackled inside a cramped hut is perhaps what led one artist to imagine "the barbaric cage built around Dreyfus' hut" (fig. 4). Only a maniac or rabid animal would require this degree of confinement, the viewer thinks in disgust, not knowing that no such cage was ever constructed. We are meant to feel outrage at the savagery of this treatment, and the flattering inset portrait with which Americans were so familiar serves to remind us of Dreyfus's humanity. (The guard, back toward us, maintains unceasing surveillance, a form of torture in itself.) The proportionately large scale of Dreyfus's head furthers our discomfort, as it visually implies that he would not easily fit inside the cage, let alone the hut. Further, the cage nearly fills the viewer's field of vision with only a glimpse of freedom above, yet this corner of clear sky offers no relief as it is darkened by a flock of ominous black crows. It is hard to imagine a more dreadful experience than that depicted in the press to American audiences.

Taking into account the kind of creative license just described, American representations of the Dreyfus Affair, primarily photographic and illustrative, aligned closer to the truth than French cartoons and caricatures that, by definition, exaggerate and distort. However, the larger principles of the Affair--justice and national identity--could be represented more clearly through allegory and symbol, as the French understood so clearly, and American publications featured vivid cartoons of their own at times. An excellent example is the cover of Puck from June 28, 1899, in which the allegory of Justice appears as a blindfolded woman on a throne in Paris draped in the fleur-de-lis. She looks noble and good, but has to be instructed how to behave, and it is none other than Puck, the mascot of the America magazine, who teaches her what justice really means. The caption reads: "So far, so good, Madame! You have vindicated Dreyfus; but you must punish those criminals who persecuted him, before your work is done." Here the artist caters to viewers who could revel in their feeling of American superiority over the French social system.

Perhaps the most fascinating of these cartoons shows an apelike soldier, representing unchecked militarism, abducting a helpless Marianne (an allegory of the French republic and symbol of liberty, equality, and fraternity) while gripping a large stone marked "PERJURY" (fig. 5). Appearing in the January 18, 1899, issue of Puck, the caption reads, "WILL SHE BE RESCUED?," referring to the limp figure of Marianne (labeled "FRENCH REPUBLIC" for the benefit of American readers). Helpless in the grip of the beast, her Phrygian cap (a symbol of liberty in France since the Revolution) lying on the ground, one feels pessimistic about her chances. The great history of French civilization, represented by the recently constructed Eiffel Tower, has receded into the far distance, greatly overshadowed by the primitive display of brutality and implied sexual violation on the rough, rocky outcropping in the foreground. Zola's barbed attack lodges in the creature's armpit but does little damage.

This cartoon, powerful in its visual message, derives from a sculpture by French artist Emmanuel Fremiet that caused a sensation at the Salon of 1887. The small bronze piece, titled "Gorilla Carrying Off a Woman," was immediately seized upon by illustrators and cartoonists who adapted the imagery for a range of editorial purposes. (18) Although the woman in Fremiet's piece is nude, thus seemingly more vulnerable than in the Puck cartoon, she appears far stronger and struggles vigorously against her captor. She looks powerful, with large hands and feet and defined leg and shoulder muscles. The frontal view reveals that the gorilla looks distressed, while the woman's expression, which is easily seen because her head pulls far back from the body of the beast, shows calm and determination. By contrast, the woman in the Puck cartoon representing the French Republic has been altered to look thinner, weaker, and possibly-even unconscious. It is a harrowing scene of total domination, not the thrilling struggle that Fremiet crafted.

In her helpless femininity, the American version of Marianne radically departs from the French ideal. From the first seal of the Republic (1792), in which she grips a spear and Roman fasces, to Delacroix's indomitable Amazon wielding a musket (in Liberty Leading the People, 1830), to the blood-curdlingly fierce allegory on the Arc de Triomphe and more, Marianne the warrior has embodied the fortitude of the French Republic. For an American cartoonist to reduce this goddess-like warrior to nothing more than a victim of a military run amok was to play directly into the rising national pride of his viewers. This would never happen here, the cartoon implied--Uncle Sam would not allow it.

The visual record examined here leaves no doubt about the compassion of Americans toward Dreyfus and his plight. American readers thrilled to the narrative of the wrongly accused captain and unequivocally rallied to his defense. Newspaper articles universally expressed pro-Dreyfus bias, and the accompanying cartoons and illustrations framed the subject in the most favorable terms. What, though, is the reason for this swell of support for Dreyfus? Why would Americans care at all about an obscure French Jew and his legal troubles? Putting aside the juicy drama of the story, which helped to sell newspapers, it seems a fairly remote event that had no bearing on Americans or American culture. Further, attitudes toward Jews were not uniformly positive on this side of the Atlantic in the late nineteenth century. Increased levels of immigration from Europe inflamed animosity toward foreign newcomers of all kinds, including Eastern European Jews. Consequently, antisemitic sentiments rose to levels not seen earlier in the century.

How bad was it? There is no consensus among scholars as to the nature and degree of antisemitism in America at this time. A new study by Matthew Baigell, titled The Implacable Urge to Defame: Cartoon Jews in the American Press, 1877-1935, emphasizes the virulence of negative stereotypes in cartoons that resemble traditional European-style antisemitism. In his introduction, he lists all the ways that Jews were caricatured by American cartoonists: "they were money-hungry Shylocks and thieving Fagins, social climbers, arsonists ready to claim insurance for property loss, and disagreeable, scheming parvenus who would take advantage of any situation in which they found themselves." (19) On the other end of the spectrum there is William and Hilary Rubinstein's Philosemitism: Admiration and Support in the English-Speaking World for Jews, 1840-1939, (20) which "seeks to counter what the authors believe is the overwhelming emphasis in Modern Jewish historical research on the hostility of the larger society toward its Jewish minority." (21)

An 1892 Judge cartoon about recent trends in immigration proposes a middle ground (fig. 6). On the right of the cartoon, titled "Their New Jerusalem," an endless parade of shabby, foreign-looking Jews trudges from Europe through the Atlantic toward America. They carry with them their meager belongings in dingy sacks and boxes, and stream into New York City, or "New Jerusalem," as the city is renamed on a sign at the shore. They are not the first of their people to arrive as is clear by the Jewish names marking every building on Broadway. But they are different from and less desirable than their predecessors, seen in the center background with their trimmed beards and expensive suits. Meanwhile, blue-blooded Americans, with names like Von Beekman, Schuyler, and Stuyvesant, cannot escape fast enough as they exit stage left toward the sunny West. "Our first families driven out" warns the text. This cartoon plays directly to American fears at the time about being overrun with undesirable refugees from Europe, including Eastern European Jews.

On the other hand, there are several admiring aspects to the representation of Jews here. The immigrants cross the Atlantic as the waters miraculously part, just as they escaped Egypt when God parted the sea in the Exodus story. America thus becomes the Promised Land divinely given. (22) Furthermore, the central figure is ambiguous. He is nicely dressed, like the New York Jews behind him, and his pose mirrors that of the Jew immediately to his right, but his trousers exactly match those of Van Beekman and his beard is shaved. The scroll under his arm reads "PERSEVERANCE AND INDUSTRY," two qualities at the heart of the American ethos during the industrial period. This motto seems to be echoed in its grammatical structure by the signs on many of the buildings: "Lippeman and Choen," "Shrier and Stern," "Steinfelder and Rosenblat," and so forth. Finally, Broadway in this view looks nothing like a Jewish ghetto but instead like a splendid metropolis with thriving businesses and beautiful architecture.

Therefore, American sentiment toward Jews at the end of the nineteenth century seems a complex mixture of ideas and attitudes that resists easy characterization. Before the 1890s the Jewish population was small and highly assimilated, attracting limited attention. The surge of Jewish immigration beginning in the 1890s was perceived with both antisemitism (as documented by Matthew Baigell in The Implacable Urge to Defame) and more positive sentiments, as expressed by Twain in his essay "Concerning the Jews." (23) As Louise Mayo put it in her excellent study on the ambiguous identity of the Jew in American culture at the time, "the presence of anti-Semitic ideology in America cannot be denied," yet "one should also not minimize the importance of such counter ideologies as America's role as a haven for the oppressed, democratic pluralism, compassion for victims of persecution, and acceptance of capitalist virtues." (24) What is gained by a consideration of visual representations of Jews as a whole from this time is a clarity that can be obscured in the historical record. This record includes nasty antisemitic stereotypes, complimentary fantasies, and everything in between. In a country founded on ideals of religious freedom, pluralism, and capitalist ideology, there was room for not only tolerance of Jews, but also respect and appreciation.

The Dreyfus Affair clearly falls on the latter end of the spectrum for two primary reasons. First, Dreyfus was not the type of Jew targeted by the kind of antisemitic cartoons reproduced in Matthew Baigell's book. Those characters look primarily like shtetl Jews and speak with thick Yiddish accents, and are of a piece with other caricatures from the time of Irish and Italian immigrants. Dreyfus did not resemble the Eastern Jews with their Yiddish, their long beards, and their trades of peddling, garment work, and so on. (His family had made their fortune in textiles, but he himself never worked in the industry.) He is instead presented as an elegant, modern man like those on the left side of the Judge magazine cartoon. Dreyfus was a Jew who, though French, exhibited the "best" of America: secular, clean-cut, patriotic, hardworking, and wealthy. American press coverage of the Dreyfus Affair, in fact, did not focus on Dreyfus's Jewishness much at all, and the romanticized portraits of Dreyfus and his wife present to the viewer beautiful and heroic victims.

Second, Dreyfus's story played not to feelings of racial superiority of the "real" American over the Jew, but instead to feelings of national superiority of America over France. (25) This focus is most evident in the American cartoons about justice, the republic, and militarism, which gleefully critique the hypocrisy of supposedly lofty French values. An illustration of this gloating pride radiates from the cover of the September 23, 1899, issue of Harper's Weekly, which was a visual response to the scandal of the second conviction. The image aims to humiliate France, personified by the pitiful, "degraded" Marianne, who loses her Phrygian cap of liberty to the military. The scales of justice and equality lay shattered on the ground and fraternity is no more as Dreyfus looks on from behind bars in the background. We Americans, the cartoon implicitly argues, are better than that. Our culture, represented just above in the masthead by symbols of the heavenly gifts of arts and sciences, is strong and true whereas the pretentious French have only broken ideals and empty values. Thus the Dreyfus Affair allowed Americans to indulge in heady feelings of pride as the nation roared onto the international stage and challenged European hegemony.

In the end a conclusive answer as to why Americans embraced Dreyfus remains the subject of speculation. In addition to the reasons offered above, one should consider the more general truth that since Jews were relative newcomers to the United States, the hatred of Europe did not define the narrative. "What separates...American expressions of anti-Semitism from the European style," explains Robert Michael in The Concise History of American Antisemitism, "was the lack of radical anti-Semitic behavior, that is, there was no significant anti-Jewish legislation and no violent physical assault. There were no American pogroms." (26) The emerging American culture, with its openness and fluidity, allowed for more diverse opinions. Jews were not the only Other, and they seemed less alien to American culture than to Europe. Thus the American press, because it was not, like the French, caught up in antisemitic hysteria, used Dreyfus's story to express other, more compelling aspects of identity politics to late-nineteenth-century American readers.


(1.) Kleeblatt, ed., The Dreyfus Affair. Essays of note include Cate, "The Paris Cry," and Nochlin, "Degas and the Dreyfus Affair."

(2.) Some examples include Donbrowski, The Image Affair, Weisberg, "A Visual Affair"; Clark, Desplanque, and Luse, Mockery of Justice; Forth, The Dreyfus Affair, and many other studies of the affair itself from a variety of historical perspectives.

(3.) Feldman, The Dreyfus Affair. Earlier works on the American reaction to the Dreyfus Affair include Halpern, "American Reaction to the Dreyfus Case" and Urquhart, "The American Reaction to the Dreyfus Affair." More recently there is a chapter of the 1999 book Philosemitism called '"Unspeakable Injustice': Philosemitism during the Dreyfus, Beilis, and Frank Affairs, 1894-1913."

(4.) Baigell, The Implacable Urge to Defame. Jews were shown in "as many negative ways as possible" in the American press, according to Baigell, 3.

(5.) Some of the major historical works on the Dreyfus Affair include Read, The Dreyfus Affair, Burns, Dreyfus; and Harris, Dreyfus.

(6.) This French army captain, striking in his tenacity but otherwise uncharismatic, inspired poems written in his honor. An American composer by the name of H. A. Russotto wrote the "Dreyfus March Two-Step" and dedicated it to the captain. A concert was held in New York City in 1898 at the Windsor Theatre in honor of Dreyfus.

(7.) The idea for this article came from researching the archives in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. The archive possesses the entire run of Eternally Parted as well as a wealth of other clippings from American newspapers and magazines. Much of the material was assembled by a scrapbooker who clipped articles and pictures and glued them into albums. On some occasions there is no indication of date or publication. As much as possible I have hunted down the reference, but occasionally I could not find another reference for the clipping.

(8.) The style of artwork within this periodical closely resembles that used in pulp novels of the period. One interesting and relevant example, titled The Jew Detective, by Ingraham in 1891, features cover art that looks quite similar in style to that in Eternally Parted. Another similarity is that The Jew Detective stars a noble and principled Jewish protagonist.

(9.) The name Hermance floats into a side story of the Dreyfus Affair in the figure of Hermance de Weede, wife of the Counselor at the Dutch Embassy in Paris, with whom Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen, an Imperial German military attache in Paris in the 1890s, was having a compromising affair. (Schwartzkoppen's assignment in Paris was to obtain secret information on the French Army, and it came out later that was receiving intelligence from Esterhazy, not Dreyfus.) It is mystifying as to why this name would appear in place of Lucie in this serial.

(10.) Read, The Dreyfus Affair, 119. Read cites as his source Dreyfus's memoir of his ordeal, Five Years of My Life.

(11.) Read, The Dreyfus Affair, 125.

(12.) See plate 37.

(13.) Photographic reproduction in newspapers had become commonplace by the late nineteenth century. In the words of scholar Michael Carlebach, "By the 1890s, the camera and pen were partners in daily and weekly journalism. Whether based on photographic originals or drawn by an artist, pictures by the thousands were printed in the nation's newspapers and magazines." Carlebach, American Photojournalism, 12.

(14.) In his otherwise philosemitic article of 1899 titled "Concerning the Jews," Mark Twain commented that the Jew "is charged with an unpatriotic disinclination to stand by the flag as a soldier--like the Christian Quaker." He later retracted this claim upon learning that Jews served in the military in a larger percentage than their share of the population.

(15.) The level of support for Lucie Dreyfus was extraordinary. Further examples include this one, reported in the New York Times on September 14, 1899, that came from Wichita, Kansas, where the people "deliberately demonstrated their solidarity with Dreyfus by electing a Jewish girl as their carnival queen; non-Jewish aspirants were eclipsed as enthusiasm for her ran over the city like wildfire." Quoted by Rubinstein, Philosemitism, 65-66. Another, cited in the Rubinstein book: "Among the many messages of sympathy to Dreyfus and his wife was one from the Bishop of Albany (William C. Doane) and other vacationers at a resort in Maine. They assured Madame Dreyfus: The heart of the whole world is toward you. The trial has made evident the innocence and the noble character of your husband, and the great public, which has followed this struggle with anguish, now renders to him and to his children the honor for which he has struggled till now, for which he is still struggling in France." Rubinstein, Phiksemitism, 65.

(16.) The so-called "veiled lady" was a character invented by Esterhazy in a plot to blackmail the French government to protect him. This newspaper seems to believe that it is an alias for an actual woman.

(17.) Although the tradition of painted portrait miniatures had declined due to the advent of photography, there was a revival of interest in miniature painting with the establishment in 1896 of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters. See Coombs, The Portrait Miniature in England.

(18.) The first spin-off, which ran on the front page of the New York Journal in 1897, was about the damaging effects of Tammany Hall-style politics to democracy. The image would go on after its star turn in the Dreyfus fiasco, to be used for propaganda about anti-trust concerns, World War I, the Armenian genocide, World War II, and for promotional purposes in King Kong posters, Tarzan of the Apes book covers, and Vogue magazine.

(19.) Baigell, Implacable Urge to Defame, 3.

(20.) Rubinstein, Philosemitism.

(21.) David Weinberg's review of the book in 19, no. 4 (2001): 164-66. Other examples of admiring attitudes toward Jews include the yearlong series in Leslies Weekly on "Notable Jews." Each short article profiles the accomplishment of a particular Jewish citizen and is accompanied by an elegant photograph. Further, there is the strange literary career of Henry Harland to consider. Under the name Sidney Luska, this non-Jew published a series of "Jewish" books to great acclaim that were at times gushingly philosemitic.

(22.) This is a theme running through the period. Interest in the Holy Land stemmed from the idea of the ancient land "at the mythic core of Anglo-America's understanding of its own covenantal mission as a New Israel." Obenzinger, American Palestine, 3. In this framework, the Jew is perceived as the protagonist in a historical narrative that presages the singular destiny of the new world.

(23.) Twain, "Concerning the Jews."

(24.) Mayo, The Ambivalent Image, 18.

(25.) Hasia Diner, in her article "Encounter between Jews and America," describes the position of Jews here as unique due to the much more defining opposition of white/black in American history and culture.

(26.) Michael, A Concise History, 88.


Agnew, Jeremy. The Age of Dimes and Pulps: A History of Sensationalist Literature, 1830-1960. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018.

Baigell, Matthew. The Implacable Urge to Defame: Cartoon Jews in the American Press, 1877-1935. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2017.

Brown, Frederick. For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus. New York: Anchor Books, 2010.

Burns, Michael. Dreyfus: A Family Affair, 1789-1945. London: Chatto & Windus, 1992.

--. France and the Dreyfus Affair: A Documentary History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999.

Carlebach, Michael. American Photojournalism Comes of Age. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1997.

Clark, Alice, Kathryn Desplanque, and Emilie Anne-Yvonne Luse. A Mockery of justice: Caricature and the Dreyfus Affair. Durham, NC: Duke University Library, 2012.

Coombs, Katherine. The Portrait Miniature in England. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1998.

Diner, Hasia. "The Encounter between Jews and America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era." The journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 11, no. 1 (2012): 3-25.

Donbrowski, Andre. The Image Affair: Dreyfus in the Media. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Libraries, 2015.

Feldman, Egal. The Dreyfus Affair and the American Conscience, 1895-1906. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981.

Forth, Christopher. The Dreyfus Affair and the Crisis of French Manhood. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Gerber, David A., ed. Anti-Semitism in American History. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Halpern, Rose A. "American Reaction to the Dreyfus Case." Master's thesis, Columbia University, 1941.

Harris, Ruth. Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century. New York: Picador, 2010.

Ingraham, Colonel Prentiss. The Jew Detective. New York: Beadle & Adams, 1891.

Kleeblatt, Norman, ed. The Dreyfus Affair Art, Truth, and Justice. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Mayo, Louise. The Ambivalent Image: Nineteenth-Century America's Perception of the Jew. Vancouver: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988.

Michael, Robert. A Concise History of American Antisemitism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

Obenzinger, Hilton. American Palestine: Melville, Twain, and the Holy Land Mania. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Read, Piers Paul. The Dreyfus Affair: The Story of the Most Infamous Miscarriage of Justice in French History. London: Bloomsbury, 2012.

Rubenstein, W. D., and Hilary Rubinstein. Philosemitism: Admiration and Support in the English-Speaking Worldfor Jews, 1840-1939. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.

Spencer, David, and Judith Spencer. The Yellow Journalism: The Press and America's Emergence as a World Power. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2007.

Twain, Mark. "Concerning the Jews." New York: Harper's Monthly, 1899.

Urquhart, Ronald Albert. "The American Reaction to the Dreyfus Affair: A Study of Anti-Semitism in the 1890s." PhD diss., Columbia University, 1972.

Weinberg, David. "Philosemitism: Admiration and Support in the English-Speaking World for Jews, 1840-1939." Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 19, no. 4 (2001): 164-66.

Weisberg, Gabriel. "A Visual Affair: Popular Culture and L'Affaire Dreyfus." PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2016.


Deborah Varat, PhD, works at Southern New Hampshire University. Her interests include Jews and art in the Modern period and also domesticity and the family as it relates to art in the Modern period. Her most recent publication is "Family Life Writ Small: Eighteenth-Century English Dollhouses" in the Journal of Family History (April 2017).
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