Everybody has heard of “J’accuse”–but ….
Eleanor Levieux begins her 1996 translation of Émile Zola’s writings on the Dreyfus Affair (largely translated from the collection edited by Alain Pagès: L’affaire Dreyfus: Lettres et entretiens inédits) thus:
Everybody has heard of “J’accuse” – but how many people have actually read it?
That is a good question.
“J’accuse” is so well known that the phrase has become a cliché, and yet I cannot recall having ever come across the letter itself in English translation before I read this book. How many of us actually know the arguments – much less the powerful prose – that Zola actually used?
It is a pity that Zola’s polemical work is not more read – especially considering that Zola was forced into exile by an unjust libel conviction.
While I have not read the original French letters, I found Leviuex’s translation to be a powerful work, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.