“J’accuse brought the sordid reality of France’s anti-Semitism out into the open”
Zola’s open letter was a brave move. His public accusation took on the forces of the French establishment – army leaders, the rightwing press, and even the French president himself.
J’Accuse succeeded in sparking off a new readiness of French intellectuals to engage in political activism and intervene in the press in defence of human rights. But it was at considerable risk to themselves, as was the case for Zola. Despite his popularity as a writer (his books include L’Assommoir and the acclaimed Germinal), he was forced to flee to England in order to avoid imprisonment. COMMENT / Dr Marisa Linton
Zola’s open letter, published in L’Aurore, brought the sordid reality of France’s widespread and deeply entrenched anti-Semitism out into the open and deeply polarised French society. This troubling undercurrent of anti-Semitism would continue to characterise some sections of French society, resurfacing again during the Second World War.
In 1899 Dreyfus was re-tried and was again found guilty, though a ‘pardon’ was issued. His name was officially cleared in 1906, four years after Zola’s death. But the J’Accuse affair raised questions about the treatment of religious minorities in France that are still with us today. Zola himself is seen as inspirational for his courage in speaking out in defence of justice and human rights, and against racist bigotry.