Editions des Saints Fathers announce the publication of the manuscript from “I accuse! …”. Jean-Marie Rouart, of the Académie française, engaged in the service of various causes -revision of the Raddad or Joushomme affairs, fight against prostitution- proposes in this edition a preface inspired by the public role of the writer in the service of justice. “Nothing but the love of truth predisposed Zola to exchange his comfortable position as a successful writer …” . Zola is not the only French writer who has fought against injustice. It is perhaps even a peculiarity of the national genius to catch fire and flame in favor of the innocent persecuted. One can not help wondering: why so many French writers have questioned a social status difficult to acquire, have endangered their work, their family life, their friendships, to devote themselves to the defense of a man they thought was the victim of an injustice? All literature in our country possesses the character of wanting to right wrongs done to an innocent person. A psychoanalysis of France would show that, if this demon of justice has bothered writers, it is because it is also shared by the French, a light-hearted, freedom-loving people, that injustice moves more than any other people. . Should we see in it an influence of our Judeo-Christian roots, the place of justice in the Bible and especially in the destiny of the Redeemer? Whether or not Jesus is condemned has determined our history and the Gospels are just episodes that prepare us for this unfair trial. How could this trial of Jesus, desired by the Sanhedrin but decided by Pontius Pilate, have sounded in the Western consciousness? He made him aware of the convict’s image.
Especially behind this convict, she will always suspect the presence of a possible innocent victim of society. And do not our whole history, the religious impregnation of our debates, resonate with this interminable process of appeal made over the centuries to the condemnation of Jesus?
Yet Zola remains the most visible symbol, the most famous, of these struggles for justice. This is of course due to the strength of his commitment, his talent as a writer, but also the impact of the cause he defended. He participated in opening a breach in French society that will leave social and political traces. Maurras will see in the advent of the Vichy regime a revenge on the Dreyfusards and Zola. Posthumous victory of which the writer will have known all the bitterness but not the jubilation caused by the recognition of the innocence of Captain Dreyfus.
When Voltaire puts his talent at the service of the rehabilitation of the knight of La Barre, condemned to death for blasphemy, or when he fights in favor of Sirven, or Calas, case which posed at the time a question at the same time political and religious since she had Protestantism as a backdrop, he continued his fight for tolerance in religious matters. And if he gets a deserved glory, he takes risks as important as when he publishes the Philosophical dictionary , a work condemned to be burned by the parliament of Paris. It is therefore the same movement that leads Voltaire to defend the freedom to think and those who are, in their flesh, victims of intolerance.
On the other hand, we know less about Balzac’s fierce defense to defend his friend the notary Peytel. The latter, a former journalist, will be sentenced for murdering his young wife and their servant. Balzac will take up the cause for Peytel, writing pleading on supplication to take his defense. In vain, Peytel will be guillotined.
These pleas for the recognition of an innocent are in fact only the extension and the illustration of what is already in the work. In a way, Father Prévost in Manon Lescaut , Flaubert in Madame Bovary , Hugo in Wretched , or Maupassant in Ball of Tallow, defend innocents through their characters condemned by society, defended and innocent by the novelist. The writer is thus the defender of the natural law against the social law, of Antigone against Creon.
Much has been questioned about why Zola had taken the pen for Dreyfus. Originally skeptical of his innocence, he will quickly convert to the idea of judicial manipulation. As early as 1897, one year before the publication of “J’accuse …!” in L’Aurore, he starts the battle in the columns of Figaro. The innocence of Dreyfus obsessed him so much that he wrote to his wife that he felt “a real thunderbolt”: “I was haunted, I did not sleep, I had to relieve myself I found cowardly to be silent, not so much for the consequences, I brave everything. ” But what strikes both Zola and his courageous predecessors is how much his work, his power in the service of liberating forms, had preceded him in his struggle. He acknowledges it himself: “We forget that I am neither a polemicist nor a politician, benefiting from the fights I am a free writer who had only one passion in his life, that of the truth who fought for her on all battlefields. ” Indeed, nothing but the love of truth predisposed Zola to exchange his comfortable position as a successful writer, accumulating big draws and a strong celebrity benefit, for an adventure full of pitfalls, insults and worries which might jeopardize his work as a writer. He confronts them with a courage that commands admiration. Sentenced to one year in prison, forced into exile in London, insulted as few writers have been, he persists and signs. This self-centered writer, attached to his work, is then witness to a sort of grace that enables him to face what must be called a form of martyrdom.
This commitment of Zola, like that of Voltaire or of many others, shows an aspect of literature that may not be emphasized enough: its spiritual dimension. Yet this is what tears their works to mediocrity and banality. What is called style, this perfection of putting into words feelings and emotions, would it possess this strength if it did not draw on this source of the spiritual? In leading his fight for the rehabilitation of Dreyfus, Zola rose above himself, revealing to himself that he was not only a man of fine phrases, a skilled novelist, but a man haunted by this spiritual ideal which alone justifies the human. Undeniably, by her courage and calvary, Zola has reached a higher dimension. And, at the same time, he pulls us towards him by increasing the capital of humanity that men need to live, to believe that life is something other than a succession of necessities and material needs that are exhausted in their lives. satiation.
Less than a century after Zola, as if the lessons of history were null and void, the government of Vichy published in October 1940 the decree that excluded Jews from the civil service and the liberal professions. It was not a Dreyfus affair, it was a thousand, a hundred thousand Dreyfus affairs. An injustice that struck a community without any justification. But what strikes apart from indignation and stupefaction at an unfair decision is silence. No voice rose to shout his anger. Where was Zola? It is perhaps this sad silence in a moment of abjection that makes Zola precious and necessary. This voice of justice that no consideration stops, Zola illustrates forever.
Editions of the Holy Fathers
I accuse…! – Manuscript of Emile Zola – Editions des Saint Pères, limited edition and numbered to 1000 copies
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