In I Dreyfus (1999) Bernice Rubens explores what she calls the ‘Dreyfus syndrome’.1 Rubens does not attempt to directly rewrite the story of the nineteenth-century Dreyfus affair (a French cause célèbre centred on the fate of a Jewish army officer who was wrongly accused of treason), but instead revisits some of the issues that the episode raised about Jewishness, identity and belonging. As I suggested in Chapter 1, contemporary British-Jewish writing presents a new confidence among Jews in today’s Britain, but it also reveals the effects of a less secure past. Rubens draws from this underlying insecurity for British Jews by relocating the Dreyfus narrative to a 1990s English public school. This bastion of establishment values is presented as a kind of time capsule which contains a muted, but deep, seam of antisemitism. Sir Alfred Dreyfus, a self-confessed ‘closet Jew’ (18), has been raised in an atmosphere of lies and ignorance about his Jewish origins and he manifests a complex relationship to Jewishness throughout the story. His strategic denial of Jewishness enables him to become headmaster of the school. However, when he is framed for the murder of a child (invoking a deep cultural association with Jews and the blood libel), he begins to reconstruct a growing sense of his Jewish identity.
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