In the Context of His Times: Alfred Dreyfus as Lover, Intellectual, Poet, and Jew

In the Context of His Times: Alfred Dreyfus as Lover, Intellectual, Poet, and Jew


Norman Simms

Series: Reference Library of Jewish Intellectual History
ISBN: 9781618112361 (hardcover)
Pages: 414 pp.
Publication Date: July 2013

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From the very moment Alfred Dreyfus was placed under arrest for treason and espionage, his entire world was turned upside down, and for the next five years he lived in what he called a phantasmagoria. To keep himself sane, Dreyfus wrote letters to and received letters from his wife Lucie and exercised his intellect through reading the few books and magazines his censors allowed him, writing essays on these and other texts he had read in the past, and working out problems in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. He practiced his English and created strange drawings his prison wardens called architectural or kabbalistic signs. In this volume, Norman Simms explores how Dreyfus kept himself from exploding into madness by reading his essays carefully, placing them in the context of his century, and extrapolating from them the hidden recesses of the Jewish Alsatian background he shared with the Dreyfus family and Lucie Hadamard.

Norman Simms (PhD Washington University) is associate professor in the Department of Humanities and English at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. He is the author of Festivals of Laughter: Blood and Justice in Biblical and Classical Literature (2007), Marranos on the Moradas: Secret Jews and Penitentes in the Southwestern United States from 1590-1890 (2009), and Alfred Dreyfus: Man, Milieu, Mentality, and Midrash (2011).

Norman Simms’ new book on Dreyfus is a truly inspiring piece of scholarship. In particular, Simms shows the importance of Dreyfus’ relationship to his wife and his being Jewish. Finally, I love Norman Simms’ intellectual curiosity and his analysis of mentality rather than simple facts. A must read for those who want to learn more about Alfed Dreyfus, antisemitism in France and antisemites who didn’t want to kill all Jews at once (like Balzac).
— Clemens Heni, Political Scientist, Director of The Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (BICSA)
The striking feature of this volume of Norman Simms’ trilogy on Alfred Dreyfus is the approach the author has adopted. He decodes Dreyfus’s letters and cahiers (prison work books), written under duress and censorship on Devil’s Island, in a most skilful way so that the reader is led to grapple with the texts and to perceive them in a new light. The work offers a fascinating portrayal of Dreyfus as a lover and family man, intellectual and poet, scientist and Jew.
— Konrad Kwiet, Pratt Foundation Professor in Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, The University of Sydney
This is a remarkable, stimulating and indeed paradigmatic book. . . . The work is well worth reading and utterly absorbing. . . . Simms has succeeded in the task he set himself – ‘to tease (Dreyfus) out from his various writings.’
— Raymond Apple Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

Table of Contents

Prologue. How to Read this Book

Chapter 1. Through a Spinning Prism Lightly
Part 1. Random Words of a Solitary Man
Part 2. The Phantasmagoria of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism

Chapter 2. The Ultimate Contraption
Part 1. The Final Prison Cahiers: Nostalgia, Anxieties, and Reveries
Part 2. The Jewish Syndic, Satan’s Synagogue and Cynicism
Part 3. Through the Prism of Anti-Semitic Discourse
Part 4. Dreyfus and Socially-Constructed Autism

Chapter 3. Transcending Radical Solitude
Part 1. A Poor Pedlar’s Bundle of Things
Part 2. Dreyfus, Jewish Art and Midrashic Aesthetics

Appendix I.
Persons Quoted and Discussed in Dreyfus’s Prison Notebooks
Appendix II.
Topics, Places, Themes and Events Discussed in Dreyfus’s Prison Notebooks
Appendix III.
Equations, Formulae, and Sketches in Dreyfus’s Prison Notebooks
Appendix IV.
Maths and Science in Dreyfus’s Prison Notebooks (by Ken MacNeil)

Index of Names
Index of Key Ideas, Concepts, and Terms