Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
~  Marie  De Cienzo ~

The Dreyfus Affair

Isolation as a Coping Method in the Works of Francois Mauriac

Francois  Mauriac
Struggling on a personal level, and undergoing several trials, Captain Alfred Dreyfus of the French Army overcame accusations of treason despite the anti-Semitic attitudes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that dominated France. On the national level, the media exercised a tremendous influence over the public, which effectively divided French citizens into two camps, those who were in favor of Dreyfus, named Drefusards, and those who opposed the accused “traitor.” One particular Dreyfusard, Emile Zola, the author of the famous article “J’Accuse,” vigorously helped to promote his friend’s innocence, hoping to rescue him from imprisonment. Indeed, with the assistance of Zola and several other figures, Dreyfus was finally declared innocent after spending more than ten years of his life undergoing the ultimate punishment a soldier could receive. Upon returning from exile on Devil’s Island and in the aftermath of the trials, Dreyfus suffered from severe medical conditions, which ultimately limited his participation in many aspects of life.

Just as Alfred Dreyfus experienced the feelings of isolation on Devil’s Island and during his retirement period, the protagonists in the works of Francois Mauriac exhibit similar emotions. In the novels Therese, Vipers’ Tangle, The Loved and the Unloved, and The Mask of Innocence, Mauriac highlights the common theme of isolation caused by the characters’ sense of guilt, problematic relationships, and the great desire for wealth in a bourgeois society. In each of the novels the protagonists surrender to guilt. Marriages are stunted, resulting in one spouse turning towards money as a replacement for the love lost within the relationship. Instead of properly coping with their mistakes, the couples remain isolated for the rest of the novels, as a representation of their inability to make progress, inevitably paralyzed by their own guilt.

Major Works Consulted:

Bredin, Jean-Denis. The Affair: the Case of Alfred Dreyfus. New York: George Braziller, 1983.
Mauriac, Francois. The Loved and the Unloved. New York: Pelligrini & Cudahy, 1952.
---. Therese. New York: Henry Holt1947.
Schechter, Betty. The Dreyfus Affair, A National Scandal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965.
Photo Credit: Wasson, Tyler. Nobel Prize Winners. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1987.