A couple of weeks ago I was in Paris working at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (the French equivalent of the British Library), researching my project on the history of dogs in modern Paris. One item I read was a self-published book by Parisian vet Lucien Richard, entitled Annuaire Richard pour 1898: Chiens célèbres et chiens de célébrités (1898), in which he outlined the exploits of famous dogs in history alongside gushing descriptions and photographs of the rich and famous’ pet dogs. Richard had invited politicians, writers and artists to send him photos of their dogs for inclusion in the book. Amongst them was the Gordon Setter owned by French president Félix Faure, who died the following year whilst having sex with his mistress. Whilst reading Richard’s book, I was surprised to come across photos of Emile Zola’s and Gyp’s pet dogs reproduced on the same page.
1898, the year Richard’s book was published, was the height of the Dreyfus Affair that had sent shockwaves and divisions through French society since 1894 when Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus was arrested and found guilty of passing on French military secrets to the German Embassy. Broadly speaking, right-wing nationalists, Catholics, and anti-Semites accused Dreyfus of treason, whilst Republicans defended his innocence and accused the army and its supporters of foul play. After years of campaigning and controversy, Dreyfus’s name was eventually cleared and justice restored. Zola was a leading Dreyfusard who published his famous newspaper article ‘J’accuse!,’ which lambasted the army’s lies, in January 1898. Gyp (real name Sibylle Aimée Marie-Antoinette Gabrielle de Riquetti de Mirabeau) on the other hand, was a prominent author, anti-Semite and anti-Dreyfusard. Hence my surprise at seeing their pet dogs on the same page.
Elsewhere, dogs featured in the imagery of the Dreyfus Affair. One famous cartoon shows a family meal disrupted by talk of the affair, with the dog scurrying for cover.
Both sides used canine imagery to attack the other side. One of the anti-Dreyfusard ‘Museum of Horror’ images from 1900 depicts banker Nathan Mayer as having a dog’s body and feasting on the corpses of French soldiers who died at the battle of Waterloo.
Giving Mayer a dog’s body underscored his supposed animality and seems to suggest that just as a dog will do anything for a bone, so too will a Jewish banker do anything to make money.
In a similar vein, a 1899 image by Alfred Le Petit shows Zola as a mad dog opposing the law during Dreyfus’s court martial in Rennes. At a time when rabid dogs were still much feared, despite Pasteur’s vaccine, Zola becomes an out of control creature and a danger to society.
Dreyfusards, meanwhile, used dogs as shorthand for the savage and effeminate character of the anti-Dreyfusards.
Henri De Groux’s famous painting Zola aux outragés shows a dog attacking Zola as he leaves the courtroom where he was sued for defamation of the army.
A cartoon by Couturier casts anti-Dreyfusards in an unflattering light, showing anti-Dreyfusard campaigner and professor of literature Jules Lemaître holding two lapdogs with bows in their hair (Gyp is depicted but without her dog).
During the affair, Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards attacked each other’s masculinity and the pampered lapdogs, with their connotations of femininity, are surely intended to undermine Lemaître’s manhood (at this time, pet-keeping manuals often scolded women for spoiling their Bichon Frises and other small dogs). As these images show, dogs became symbols in the political struggle of the Dreyfus Affair.
All this animosity explains why it is so odd that Richard chose to put Zola’s and Gyp’s dogs on the same page. Was he oblivious to the battle between the Dreyfusards and the anti-Dreyfusards? Was it some sort of joke, or an attempt to bring the two sides together? We’ll perhaps never know the answer, but I would love to know what Zola and Gyp made of it.