The Dreyfus Affair

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An Officer & a Spy is rather unlike Harris’ previous novels in that it does not merely use a historical basis to build a narrative from, as is the case in Fatherland. This newest novel is arguably narrative history, weaving traditional storytelling narrative with a real historical event – in this case, the Dreyfus Affair. Harris, for the most part, does not sacrifice historical facts to create a more fulfilling or exciting story – it is well entwined and only really relies on embellishment rather than fake scenarios. Alfred Dreyfus was sentenced for leaking state secrets to the Germans in the year 1895 and was subsequently sent to solitary confinement on ‘Devil’s Island’; it was solitary confinement in every sense of the word as…show more content…
Perhaps surprisingly, Harris does not use Dreyfus as the main protagonist but rather chooses Georges Picquart to take that role. Picquart was the individual chosen to report on Dreyfus’ case. Picquart was generally seen as an anti-Semite and it is perhaps this part of his character that convinced Harris’ to paint the story around him. Picquart was the individual who first concluded that Dreyfus was in fact innocent and thus strove to make the truth public knowledge, even at the expense of his own career – for his persistent confrontations with his superiors over the innocence of Dreyfus and thus condemnation of the real spy, Captain Ferdinand, he was sent on numerous missions to rid France of his…show more content…
Perhaps Harris’ largest fault regarding this is not staying true to the character development of Picquart. Picquart was a very complex individual and showed no complexity more so than during the occurrences of the Dreyfus affair, mostly centred on his attitude to the Jewish people. Anti-Semitism was not uncommon in France during the third republic, it was rather widespread in fact – Picquart was not uncommon in that he was partly anti-Semitic. Harris builds on this from the very early sections of the book. For example when Dreyfus is humiliated and paraded in front of the public, Picquart describes it as “…a Jewish tailor counting the cost of all that gold…”. Thus setting up Picquart as anti-Semitic. However, in true Hollywood fashion Harris ends up redeeming Picquart in the climax of the book in multiple ways. The first example is Picquart gaining a promotion to Minister of War, one should note that this dude not happen to Picquart in real life. The second example is when he is redeemed by Alfred Dreyfus himself, at the end of the book Dreyfus says, regarding Picquart’s promotion, that he deserved because “you [he] did your duty [his]”. However, it is arguable that in the real world Picquart never acquired this level of closure to the case and perhaps the inward struggle he was going through. This inward struggle is what makes Picquart and interesting

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