Sunday, April 1, 2007

Tietjans as Dreyfus

- A Newspaper Cartoon suggesting Dreyfus' motives

After the incident at the golf course, when Tietjans assists Valentine in escaping arrest, General Campion has a discussion with Tietjans about his supposedly open and adulterous relationship with Valentine. In this conversation, General Campion refers to Tietjans as “A regular Dreyfus” for appearing in public with the girl he is apparently supporting with his wife’s money.

Dreyfus was a Captain in the French military and was wrongfully convicted of sending military secrets to the German government (Lynn-George, 2006). A man of Jewish religious affiliation, it is alleged that his conviction for treason was born out of deeply rooted anti-Semitism and supported by the belief that Jews were attempting to usurp control of the French educational system. Beyond personal injustice, however, the conflict deeply divided French society and instigated what is known as the Dreyfusard movement (Harris, 2006). This movement was associated with open enquiry into the actions of government and criticism of the French social hierarchy.(Lynn-George, 962-963) The established order, therefore, regarded the Dreyfusards as a threat to their position and livelihood because of their attempt to unsettle traditional power relations. The Dreyfusards rejected the notion that those in authority are beyond criticism and they suggested that Dreyfus' conviction and imprisonment represented the abuse of process that is endemnic of unchecked power.

To General Campion, Tietjans is a comparable to Dreyfus because of his apparent willingness to fly in the face of the established standards of propriety. Gentlemen do not appear in public with their mistresses - they keep them behind closed doors. Therefore, for Tietjans to supposedly do so with Valentine, would make it appear as though he is flaunting the established social order. To Campion it does not matter whether Dreyfus actually committed treason or not, the fact that he and his supporters had the audacity to challenge social norms makes him “worse than guilty” (Ford, 75). This reference also seems to foreshadow the displacement of the English Upper Classes that occurs as a consequence of WWI. While Campion is reflecting on a situation in a foreign country, the consequences the affair had for France mimics the consequences that WWI had for England – a dramatic upheaval of the English hierarchy.

There is also another parallel between Dreyfus and Tietjans that the General is not attuned to. At the time that he is speaking, Dreyfus has been exonerated (Dreyfus was released from exile in 1906) and can no longer said to have committed the actions in question. Similarly, at this point in the novel, Tietjans has neither committed adultery, nor given Valentine any money - let alone his wife’s. Through the association to Dreyfus, Ford thus represents Tietjans as a character unjustly impugned by the social order of England. He has not done what he has been accused of, but the appearance of impropriety makes him “worse than guilty”(75) in the eyes of people like General Campion.

- Taylor Buis

Lynn-George, Michael. “The Crossroads of Truth: Ferdinand de Saussure and the Dreyfus Affair.” MLN. 121 (2006): 961-988.

Harris, Ruth. “Letters to Lucie: Spirituality, Friendship, and Politics During the Dreyfus Affair.” Past and Present. August (2006): 118-138.

1 comment:

Some Do Not... said...

Miss Blonde, if Dreyfus actually went to jail for soemthing he didn't do and Tietjans doesn't, how is this a fair comparison?


Miss Blonde: Actual legal repercussions are not the only consequences that can be inflicted on him. Because of the rumours about Tietjans he has lost both his job and his reputation. While his punishment may not be to the same magnitude as dreyfus', he still suffers unjustly for flying in the face of convention. As a result, he is a Dreyfus-like figure.