Read An Officer and a Spy Online

Authors: Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy


Copyright © 2013 by Robert Harris

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. Originally published in Great Britain by Hutchinson, a division of the Random House Group, Limited, London, in 2013.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

978-0-385-34958-1 (hardcover)
978-0-385-34959-8 (eBook)

This is a work of historical fiction, using well-known historical and public figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Jacket images: View of Paris, The Granger Collection, NYC; (seal) Jon Shireman / Getty images; (ribbon) Michael M. Schwab / Getty Images Jacket design by Evan Gaffney Design


To Gill

Author’s Note

This book aims to use the techniques of a novel to retell the true story of the Dreyfus affair, perhaps the greatest political scandal and miscarriage of justice in history, which in the 1890s came to obsess France and ultimately the entire world. It occurred only twenty-five years after the Germans had crushed the French in the war of 1870 and occupied the territories of Alsace and Lorraine—the seismic shock to the European balance of power that was the precursor of the First and Second World Wars.

None of the characters in the pages that follow, not even the most minor, is wholly fictional, and almost all of what occurs, at least in some form, actually happened in real life.

Naturally, however, in order to turn history into a novel, I have been obliged to simplify, to cut out some figures entirely, to dramatise, and to invent many personal details. In particular, Georges Picquart never wrote a secret account of the Dreyfus affair; nor did he place it in a bank vault in Geneva with instructions that it should remain sealed until a century after his death.

But a novelist can imagine otherwise.

—Robert Harris

Bastille Day 2013

Dramatis Personae


Alfred Dreyfus

Lucie Dreyfus,

Mathieu Dreyfus,

Pierre and Jeanne Dreyfus,


General Auguste Mercier,
Minister of War, 1893–5

General Jean-Baptiste Billot,
Minister of War, 1896–8

General Raoul le Mouton de Boisdeffre,
Chief of the General Staff

General Charles Arthur Gonse,
Chief of the Second Department

General Georges Gabriel de Pellieux,
Military Commander, Département of the Seine

Colonel Armand du Paty de Clam

Colonel Foucault,
military attaché in Berlin

Major Charles Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy,
74th Infantry Regiment


Colonel Jean Sandherr,
Chief, 1887–95

Colonel Georges Picquart,
Chief, 1895–7

Major Hubert Joseph Henry

Captain Jules-Maximillien Lauth

Captain Junck

Captain Valdant

Felix Gribelin,

Madam Marie Bastian,


François Guénée

Jean-Alfred Desvernine

Louis Tomps


Alphonse Bertillon


Louis Leblois,
Picquart’s friend and attorney

Ferdinand Labori,
attorney to Zola, Picquart and Alfred Dreyfus

Edgar Demange,
attorney to Alfred Dreyfus

Paul Bertulus,
examining magistrate


Pauline Monnier

Blanche de Comminges and family

Louis and Martha Leblois,
friends from Alsace

Edmond and Jeanne Gast,

Anna and Jules Gay,
sister and brother-in-law

Germain Ducasse,
friend and protégé

Major Albert Curé,
old army comrade


Colonel Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen,
German military attaché

Major Alessandro Panizzardi,
Italian military attaché


Émile Zola

Georges Clemenceau,
politician and newspaper editor

Albert Clemenceau,

Auguste Scheurer-Kestner,
Vice President, French Senate

Jean Jaurès,
leader of the French socialists

Joseph Reinach,
politician and writer

Arthur Ranc,

Bernard Lazare,


“Major Picquart to see the Minister of War …”

The sentry on the rue Saint-Dominique steps out of his box to open the gate and I run through a whirl of snow across the windy courtyard into the warm lobby of the hôtel de Brienne, where a sleek young captain of the Republican Guard rises to salute me. I repeat, with greater urgency: “
Major Picquart to see the Minister of War …!

We march in step, the captain leading, over the black-and-white marble of the minister’s official residence, up the curving staircase, past suits of silver armour from the time of Louis the Sun King, past that atrocious piece of Imperial kitsch, David’s
Napoleon Crossing the Alps at the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard
, until we reach the first floor, where we halt beside a window overlooking the grounds and the captain goes off to announce my arrival, leaving me alone for a few moments to contemplate something rare and beautiful: a garden made silent by snow in the centre of a city on a winter’s morning. Even the yellow electric lights in the War Ministry, shimmering through the gauzy trees, have a quality of magic.

“General Mercier is waiting for you, Major.”

The minister’s office is huge and ornately panelled in duck-egg blue, with a double balcony over the whitened lawn. Two elderly men in black uniforms, the most senior officers in the Ministry of War, stand warming the backs of their legs against the open fire. One is General Raoul le Mouton de Boisdeffre, Chief of the General Staff, expert in all things Russian, architect of our burgeoning alliance with the new tsar, who has spent so much time with the Imperial court he has begun to look like a stiff-whiskered Russian count.
The other, slightly older at sixty, is his superior: the Minister of War himself, General Auguste Mercier.

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