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The Hypocrisy of Justice in the Belle Epoque

Let me say right off that I could not put this book down—not so much for Benjamin Martin’s analysis of the hypocrisy of the social scene of the Third Republic as for his fascinating account of the three major scandals of the period. One of these, the Steinheil Affair, reads like a treatment for a Belle Epoque soap opera. Here are the facts.

At 21, Meg Japy, beautiful, sensual, etc., married a man twenty years her elder, an artist of vast ordinariness but who had made his modest way “content that each year since 1870 the official state exhibition had selected one of his paintings for hanging.” Meg soon sought bliss and reward for her youth with others—with many others, and with many of great note. With Félix Faure, for example, president of the Republic, who was responsible for commissioning Meg’s husband to execute a huge tableau for the state, for which the artist was paid “thirty thousand

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