8. The Dreyfus Affair, Part 1

“Lord, we are a guilty, woeful country.” – National Assembly Prayer, May 1871

Welcome back to The Land of Desire, a French history podcast dedicated to exploring all the weird adventures, mysteries and surprising backstories behind French cultural icons. This week we examine the climax of the Belle Époque, the moment when all the cultural and countercultural forces of the past 20 years finally collided into a definitive showdown between old and new, traditional and cosmopolitan, past and future. When a French soldier named Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason, his trial became a national sensation, and his banishment was a triumph. There was just one teensy little problem: Alfred was innocent. Over the next six weeks we’ll take on the crime of the century, a tale of betrayal, espionage, religious fanaticism, and a conspiracy which stretched from the meanest criminal all the way to the President himself. This week, enjoy part one of our series on one of the most definitive moments in French history: “The Dreyfus Affair”.


Episode 8: “The Dreyfus Affair, Part 1”

The Case:

Star of the Dreyfus Affair
Alfred Dreyfus
Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, vice-president of the Senate
Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, vice-president of the Senate



Devil's Island Hut
Alfred Dreyfus’s hut on Devil’s Island

The Evidence:

The infamous bordereau of the Dreyfus Affair

Letter from Alfred Dreyfus to Felix Faure, President of France
Letter from Alfred Dreyfus to Felix Faure, President of France. Compare this handwriting to that of the bordereau.

NOTE: For those who wish to avoid spoilers, I’ll only be adding evidence to each post as it is discovered throughout the series.

Further Reading:


I found it handy to keep this Chronological History of the Dreyfus Affair handy.


Dawn of the Belle Époque (Mary McAuliffe, 2011)


For The Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus (Frederick Brown, 2011)

The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus (Jean-Denis Bredin, 1986): If you get one single volume history of the Dreyfus Affair, make sure it’s this one!

“Trial of the Century” (Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, September 28, 2009)

“Dreyfus Was Vindicated, But What Of The French?” (Alan Riding, New York Times, July 7, 2006)