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The Dreyfus Affair and the Crisis of French Manhood

In 1894, French army captain Alfred Dreyfus, an Alsatian Jew, was wrongly accused of passing military secrets to the Germans. The ensuing scandal has often been studied for what it reveals about French anti-Semitism and tensions between republicanism and conservatism under the Third Republic. But because treason was considered a cowardly—and therefore effeminate—act, Dreyfus also embodied, for many, the danger of effeminate men masquerading in military uniform.

In The Dreyfus Affair and the Crisis of French Manhood historian Christopher E. Forth shows how the rhetoric and images used during the Dreyfus Affair reflected French anxieties about masculinity and modernity, and also facilitated ongoing debates about the state of French manhood through the First World War. Forth first considers the broad gender issues that faced the French at the time of the Dreyfus trial. He examines contemporary newspaper accounts as critiques of the masculine credentials of Jewish men and shows how members of the Jewish press answered allegations of their own cowardice and effeminacy. By situating the figure of the "intellectual" within the gender anxieties of the time, he shows how Dreyfus's supporters defensively tried to affirm their masculinity by distancing themselves from "cowardly" Jews, "hysterical" crowds, and threatening women. This book pays special attention to how the Dreyfus Affair engaged with changing ideals of the male body. Taking as a metaphor the portly body of Dreyfus's most prominent defender, novelist Émile Zola, Forth explores how an emerging emphasis on diet and exercise allowed supporters to celebrate Zola's "heroic" weight loss. Finally, he examines the relation of the Dreyfus Affair to the "culture of force" that marked French society during the prewar years, thus accounting for the rise of the youthful athlete as a more compelling manly ideal than the bookish and sedentary intellectual.

About the Author

Christopher E. Forth is the Howard Professor of Humanities & Western Civilization at the University of Kansas. He is the author of Zarathustra in Paris: The Nietzsche Vogue in France, 1891–1918 (2001) and Masculinity in the Modern West: Gender, Civilization and the Body (2008).

Reviews

By shifting the main focus from race to gender, from anti-Semitism to masculinity, Forth demonstrates just how deeply rooted in French culture the Dreyfus Affair was.

- Margaret H. Darrow - H-France

Forth provides an important contribution to the study of the scandal and to the broader cultural history of fin-de-siècle France by arguing that the divisive events of the Affair were framed by participants on both sides as a crisis in the French male body

- Choice

Original and exciting... Forth uses the Dreyfus Affair as a means to explore not only the contingency of manhood but also the subtle ways in which gender norms are implicated in racist imagery, class boundaries, and the construction of the intellectual in fin-de-siècle France.

- Carolyn J. Dean - American Historical Review

Endorsements

Numerous writers have begun to write about the 'crisis of masculinity,' and even more scholars have studied the Dreyfus Affair, but few have combined the two. Forth has provided an imaginative and important book that contributes to our understanding of the cultural and intellectual history of the fin de siècle.

- Rachel G. Fuchs, Arizona State University

This fascinating book will make it impossible to think of the Dreyfus Affair as simply a battle of ideas, parties, and institutions. Forth shows how both Dreyfusard and Anti-Dreyfusard discourses were saturated with a gendered body imagery that privileged forceful masculinity over the presumptive effeminacy of Jews, anti-militarists, and disembodied 'intellectuals.' Dreyfusards may have won some tactical political battles, but they surrendered the linguistic field to their enemies.

- Robert Nye, Oregon State University

A nuanced and sophisticated analysis of French manhood.

- Lisa O'Sullivan - Medical History

Forth's analysis... lends important insight into the problematic ways in which this rhetoric has operated historically.

- Judith Surkis - Journal of Modern History

Innovative and articulate, this book will appeal to anyone interested in the Dreyfus Affair, masculinity, or medical discourses in fin-de-siecle France.

- Nancy Fitch - English Historical Review

Erudite and interesting book.

- Rhonda Garelick - Men and Masculinities

A compelling portrait of a cultural crisis, and a book that should both interest the general reader and fascinate the area specialist.

- Joseph Zizek - Journal of French Studies

A rich and provocative study of the Dreyfus affair and the crisis of fin-de-siècle masculinity... This is a valuable book because it presents the Dreyfusards from a new perspective and because it disrupts the teleology that has surrounded the Dreyfus affair.

- Judith F. Stone - Patterns of Prejudice
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