Saturday, September 5, 2015

PAULETTE MAHURIN on Emile Zola and The Dreyfus Affair

Welcome to Is History The Agreed Upon lie Paulette. I enjoyed your book To Live Out Loud very much and wanted to ask you a few questions. Growing up in Mexico and the USA my first exposure to Emile Zola was Irving Stone’s Lust For Life when Emile Zola interacts with Van Gogh and discusses Germinal .
A few months after I read the book, I moved to Lyons, France to study. Unlike today in the late ‘70s we learned in drips and drops. Today Google would bring up The Dreyfus Affair.
Walking in Lyons with a French friend in 1977 I first heard of the shame of France and the famous J’accuse open letter. Your fascinating take on the incident, for the very first time really brought it to life for me.

In 1895, France was torn asunder by a scandal that rocked the nation and divided the country. An innocent Jewish military officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was unjustly sentenced to life imprisonment on a desolate island. The news that could exonerate him was leaked to the press, but was suppressed by the military. Anyone who sought to reopen the Dreyfus court-martial became victimized and persecuted and was considered an enemy of the state. Émile Zola, a popular journalist, determined to bring the truth to light, undertook the challenge to publicly expose the facts surrounding the military cover-up. This is the story of Zola’s battle to help Alfred Dreyfus reclaim his freedom and clear his name. Up against anti-Semitism, military resistance, and opposition from the Church of France, Zola committed his life to fighting for justice. But was it worth all it cost him, to those around him, and to France? This is a narrative of friendship, courage, and love in the face of the adversity and hatred. It is a story of how one man’s courageous actions impacted a nation. From the award winning author of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap comes a book that will leave you examining your notions about heroism, courage, and your role in social change long after you read the last sentence. 

Instead of the customary essay guests here provide as The Dreyfus Affaire is based on lies and Bigotry I am thrilled you agreed to an interview. 

First let me say a huge thank you for having me over to your great site and all the support you give to authors. Coming from such a talented writer as yourself, it’s an honor to have you feature my book.
   When did the Dreyfus Affair first pique your interest?

 When I was writing and researching my first book, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, I looked up events that happened that year, 1895, the year Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for the criminal act of indecency. The topic of my storyline was intolerance and persecution. I found out that 1895 was a great year for prejudice and intolerance worldwide. Not only was homophobia raging out of control in England with Oscar Wilde’s being thrown in prison for two years but anti-Semitism was alive and well in France with Alfred Dreyfus being falsely accused of being a traitor and thrown in Devil’s Island for life. And over here in the U.S. racism was going wild as Booker T. Washington fought for Blacks to be allowed in schools with his famous Atlanta Address. I became fascinated with the Dreyfus Affair at that time.

The research is clearly vast. Which were the best resources?
Multiple books, especially one written by the son of one of Zola’s publishers, Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, Émile Zola Novelist and Reformer: An Accountof his Life Work. I used multiple websites to gain an understanding of Jewish history in France during that time which is where I found the one sentence I quoted from Dreyfus, “when will I kiss you again” (paraphrase) in his letter to his wife, Lucie. I found the transcript of the Zola Libel trial and used that. Too many to reference here but suffice it to say my eyes were sore from all the reading 

Government Corruption and prejudice can probably be found in any era and in every country; Do you see yourself tackling the topic again?
If there’s a historical situation, a person, an event, that moves me, then yes Perhaps. I’ve started a brief outline and first chapter on a book called, The Seven Year Dress, about a woman I rented a room from while in college. When I first met her I noticed the numbers on her arm. After spending time living with her, I heard her story. There are so many incredible historical events to draw from, like Florence Nightingale being lesbian and serving men at war. Right now, I’m just not sure.

Do you have a favorite Historical era?
I’m fascinated by ancient Greece, when hubris was a crime and Socrates was put to death for it. I’m also fascinated by the early 18th century when Thomas Payne wrote The Age of Reason, which challenged institutionalized religion and the legitimacy of The Bible. Not that I’m against any religion, it is just a fascinating time when freedom of speech and liberties is highlighted. Of course there are the paradoxes and dichotomies of every generation who opposes forward thinking but those times when the wave moved high for tolerance, those are the times that interest me, like the Dreyfus Affair, which changed a nation.

Injustice and Bigotry were also the subject of your novel The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap. How did the topic become a passion?
I think it’s just my nature, to want to help the little guy, the underdog, the downtrodden, especially when there’s unjust intolerance. If an action isn’t hurting anyone then let it be. How are gays hurting? Who are Jews hurting? Who are blacks hurting? Other than ideologies and beliefs when there is no criminal actions involved?

 Monsieur Charles Mandonette; the fictional narrator in To Live Out Loud feels very authentic for the era, I liked how you made him a childless bachelor, afterallthe serous research how did you some up with the character? Was he always the planed original voice for the book?
Initially I wanted to write from the prospective of Lucie Dreyfus or a friend of hers but it was too hard to unleash any information about her. The love letters between her and her husband have been circulating Jewish museums and I couldn’t get a view at any of them on line. There was a paucity of available information on her and what little I did find I included in the book. Because of this scarcity, I went for a friend and confidant of Zola’s, which was modeled after a real confidant and friend, Henry Vizetelly, who kept a long running journal of his time with Zola, including being present at the libel trial. The idea of a confidant of Zola’s was then more plausible as a protagonist and narrator. Once I got into his voice the rest flowed organically. Mahurin lives with her husband Terry and two dogs, Max and Bella, in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science.
While in college, she won awards and was published for her short-story writing. One of these stories, Something Wonderful, was based on the couple presented in His Name Was Ben, which she expanded into this fictionalized novel in 2014. Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction of the year 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine.
Semi-retired, she continues to work part-time as a Nurse Practitioner in Ventura County. When she’s not writing, she does pro-bono consultation work with women with cancer, works in the Westminster Free Clinic as a volunteer provider, volunteers as a mediator in the Ventura County Courthouse for small claims cases, and involves herself, along with her husband, in dog rescue.
Profits from her books go to help rescue dogs.

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