Robert Harris: An Officer and a Spy
Intrigue-riddled alternative history thriller about the Dreyfuss affair by Robert Harris gives a good picture of Paris during the last years of the 19th century.
Different take on “I have a dream” or Ghandi’s perseverance:
And yet, in the end, we win – not in a flash of glory, as we had always hoped; not at the climax of some great trial, with the condemned man, vindicated at last, carried shoulder-high to freedom. We win quietly, behind closed doors, when tempers have cooled, in committee rooms and archives, as all the facts are sieved and sieved again, by careful jurists.
Hey, conspiracy theorists, he is talking about you:
There is no such a thing as a secret – not really, not in the modern world, not with photography and telegraphy and railways and newspaper presses. The old days of an inner circle of like-minded souls communicating with parchment and quill pens are gone. Sooner or later most things will be revealed.
I have a goal and I follow it, so you call me an obsessive?:
“Why? You think I’m wrong?”
“No, but I think perhaps you are in danger of becoming an obsessive.”
“If I weren’t an obsessive, Dreyfus would still be on Devil’s Island.”
On modern-day tabloids and media interest shifts:
Billot’s prediction about Dreyfus and the press proves correct. As abruptly as they took him up again, the newspapers lose all interest in the prisoner on Devil’s Island. He is replaced on the front pages by stories about the Russian state visit, in particular by speculation about what the Tsarina will be wearing.
On Paris at the end of the 19th century:
June arrives. The air warms up and very soon Paris starts to reek of shit. The stench rises out of the sewers and settles over the city like a putrid gas. People venture out of doors wearing linen masks or with handkerchiefs pressed to their noses, but it doesn’t make much difference. In the newspapers the experts are unanimous that it isn’t as bad as the original “great stink” of 1880 – I can’t speak to that: I was in Algeria at the time – but certainly it ruins the early days of summer. “It is impossible to stand on one’s balcony,” complains Le Figaro, “impossible to sit on the terrace of one of the busy, joyful cafés that are the pride of our boulevards, without thinking that one must be downwind from some uncouth, invisible giant.” The smell infiltrates one’s hair and clothes and settles in one’s nostrils, even on one;s tongue, so that everything tastes of corruption.