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"Major Dreyfus to see the Minister of War ..."
I hear him announce himself to my orderly at the foot of the marble staircase in that familiar voice with its trace of German. I listen to the click of his boots as he mounts the steps, and then slowly he emerges into view-the cap, the epaulettes, the gold b.u.t.tons, the braid, the sword, the stripe on his trousers: all exactly as it was before the degradation, but with the addition of the red ribbon of the Legion of Honour on his artilleryman's black tunic.
He comes to a halt on the landing and salutes. "General Picquart."
"Major Dreyfus." I smile and extend my hand. "I have been waiting for you. Please come through."
The ministerial office is unchanged since the days of Mercier and Billot, still panelled in duck-egg blue, although Pauline, who acts as chatelaine, likes to arrange fresh flowers each day on the table between the large windows overlooking the garden. The trees this afternoon are bare; the lights of the ministry burn bright in the late November gloom.
"Sit down, Major," I say. "Make yourself comfortable. Have you been in here before?"
"No, Minister." He lowers himself onto the gilt chair and sits very formally, stiff-backed.
I take the seat opposite him. He has thickened out, looks good, almost sleek in his expensively cut uniform. The pale blue eyes behind the familiar pince-nez are wary. "So then," I say, putting my fingertips together, and contemplating him long and hard, "what is it you want to discuss?"
"It concerns my rank," he says. "The promotion I have received, from captain to major, takes no account of the years I spent wrongly imprisoned on Devil's Island. Whereas your promotion-if you'll forgive me for pointing it out-from colonel to brigadier general, treats your eight years out of the army as though they were spent in active service. I believe this is unfair-prejudiced, in fact."
"I see." I feel my smile hardening. "And what do you want me to do about it?"
"Rectify it. Promote me to the rank I should have achieved."
"Which would be what, in your opinion?"
I pause. "But that would require special legislation, Major. The government would have to go back to the Chamber of Deputies and introduce a new motion."
"It should be done. It is the right thing."
"No. It is impossible."
"Might I ask why?"
"Because," I say in exasperation, "it is politically impossible. The motion pa.s.sed in July, when feelings were overwhelmingly in your favour because it was the day after your exoneration. This is now November-the mood is already quite different. Also, I have a difficult enough task as it is-as I'm sure you will appreciate-coming back into this building as Minister of War and trying to work with so many officers who were for so long our bitter enemies. I must swallow my anger every day and put past battles behind me. How can I now turn round to them and tear open the whole controversy yet again?"
"Because it is the right thing to do."
"I'm sorry, Dreyfus. It simply cannot be."
We sit in silence. Suddenly there is more than just a strip of carpet between us: there is a chasm, and I would number those few seconds as among the most excruciating of my life. Eventually I can bear it no longer and get to my feet. "If that is all ...?"
At once, Dreyfus also stands. "Yes, that is all."
I show him towards the door. It seems an appalling note on which to end.
"It is a matter of some regret to me, Major," I say carefully, "that we have not met alone in private until now."
"No. Not since the morning of my arrest, when you took me to your office before conducting me to meet Colonel du Paty."
I feel my face colouring. "Yes, I apologise for my part in that lugubrious charade."
"Ah well. You made up for it, I think!" Dreyfus looks around the office and nods in appreciation. "It is a great thing to have done all that, and at the end of it to have been appointed to the Cabinet of the French Republic."
"And yet, you know, the strange truth is I would never have attained it without you."
"No, my General," says Dreyfus, "you attained it because you did your duty."
A novel such as this is heavily dependent on the work of others, and I would like to express my thanks to all whose books have opened up this subject for me. The first general history I read was The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus by Jean-Denis Bredin: still the preeminent account for the general reader. The Man on Devil's Island: Alfred Dreyfus and the Affair That Divided France was also immensely useful, and I thank its author, Dr. Ruth Harris of New College, Oxford, for the additional information and advice she gave me. I have also benefited from Dreyfus: A Family Affair, 17891945 by Michael Burns, Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters by Louis Begley, France and the Dreyfus Affair by Douglas Johnson, The Dreyfus Affair by Piers Paul Read and the monumental Histoire de l'affaire Dreyfus by Joseph Reinach, which remains indispensable even though it was published in 1908. Zola: A Life by Frederick Brown and George Painter's two-volume life of Proust were also useful.
Among more specialist books, I owe an immense debt to The Dreyfus Affair: A Chronological History by George R. Whyte, which has rarely left my side for a year. Another extremely valuable source was Georges Picquart: dreyfusard, proscrit, minister: La justice par l'exact.i.tude by Christian Vigouroux, the first biography of Picquart to be published for more than a century, which contains family letters and information drawn from police files. I have been fortunate in being able to benefit from the very latest scholarship on the affair contained in Le Dossier Secret de l'affaire Dreyfus by Pierre Gervais, Pauline Peretz and Pierre Stutin. The a.s.sociated website, www.affairedreyfus.com, which went online while I was writing, contains a wealth of information, including links to photographs and transcripts of all the doc.u.ments in the secret file, recently released by the French Ministry of Defence.
For primary research I read the transcripts of the Zola libel trial, the Rennes court-martial, and the various inquiries and hearings of 1898, 1904, 1905 and 1906; all can now be found online. Most major French newspapers of the period are freely available at the website of the Bibliotheque nationale de France, www.gallica.bnf.fr. I also found invaluable the digital archive of the London Times, which I accessed through the London Library.
I have quoted extensively from Dreyfus's own writings, published variously in Five Years of My Life, The Dreyfus Case (written with his son, Pierre) and Carnets, 18991907. Other useful contemporary sources are My Secret Diary of the Dreyfus Case by Maurice Paleologue and L'Affaire Dreyfus: L'Iniquite, la Reparation by Louis Leblois. Finally, The Tragedy of Dreyfus by G. W. Steevens, an eyewitness account of the proceedings at Rennes, contrary to its t.i.tle, is a comic delight-the affair as written by Jerome K. Jerome-and I have used his version of Bertillon's insane testimony almost verbatim.
The idea of retelling the story of the Dreyfus case first came up during lunch in Paris with Roman Polanski at the beginning of 2012: I shall always be grateful to him for his generosity and encouragement. I should also like to thank my English-language editors, Jocasta Hamilton of Hutchinson in London and Sonny Mehta of Knopf in New York, for their wise advice and suggestions; thanks too to my literary agent, Michael Carlisle. For many years, my German translator, Wolfgang Mller, has worked on my ma.n.u.scripts whilst they were still being written, and as usual he has made many suggestions and corrected many mistakes. My French editor, Ivan Nabokov, has also been a great source of support.
Finally, there is one other name to mention. Over the course of twenty-five years of married life-a total achieved just as this book was completed-my wife, Gill Hornby, has been obliged to share our house with successive waves of n.a.z.is, codebreakers, KGB men, hedge fund managers, ghostwriters and a.s.sorted ancient Romans; this time it was officers of the French General Staff. I thank her for her love, tolerance and shrewd literary judgement over a quarter of a century.
All the errors that remain, factual and stylistic, along with the various sleights of hand in narrative and characterisation invariably required to turn fact into fiction, remain my sole responsibility.
A Note About the Author.
Robert Harris is the author of eight best-selling novels: Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost Writer, Conspirata, and The Fear Index. Several of his books have been adapted to film, most recently The Ghost Writer, which was directed by Roman Polanski. Harris's work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. He lives in the village of Kintbury, West Berkshire, with his wife, Gill Hornby.
Also by Robert Harris.
The Fear Index.
The Ghost Writer.
A Higher Form of Killing.
(with Jeremy Paxman).