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Bernard-Lazare: Antisemitism and the problem of Jewish identity in late nineteenth-century France by Nelly Wilson (130,000 words, 8 illustrations)

Bernard-Lazare (1865-1903) was a French Jewish writer and a prime mover in the Dreyfus Affair. After being involved in the Symbolist and anarchist movements, he took up the cause of Dreyfus in his brochure “Une erreur judiciaire” which anticipated Zola’s “J’accuse” by three years. He was an early analyst of antisemitism and in later years an ardent Zionist whose outspoken views provoked much controversy. The Dreyfus Affair lies at the center of this book as it was the turning-point in Bernard-Lazare’s life.

The first part of the book traces Bernard-Lazare’s early career: his devotion to Mallarmé and defense of the Symbolist aesthetic as a philosophy of freedom; his adoption of anarchist principles which satisfied his love of freedom, his sympathy for oppressed individuality and minority groups, and his passion for social justice; above all his analysis of antisemitism where, at first, he argued for social assimilation only to reject this idea later in favor of cultural pluralism.

The second part offers a history of the Dreyfus Affair and of how Bernard-Lazare drew attention to the grave irregularities of the case and convinced others of the threat posed to Republican democracy.

Finally, Nelly Wilson shows how Bernard-Lazare came to espouse Jewish nationalism in a more radical and solitary way than did Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and how, after his death, his memory was kept alive by Péguy, who saw in Bernard-Lazare the embodiment of the prophetic spirit.

“[A] finely-crafted study... Dr. Wilson has more than mastered her subject... Readers will benefit from her work” —
Michael R. Marrus, University of Toronto