Jeremy Harding at the London Review of Books:
A stand-off in Sudan in 1898 between the British and the French was attended by a prodigious rattling of sabres in London and Paris. The two armies in the field never came to blows, but France lost face at Fashoda and a tide of Anglophobia engulfed the Parisian press. It lasted through the Boer wars and beyond. Le Petit Journal, a scurrilous right-wing Republican daily, which rounded on Dreyfus, then Zola, took up the cudgels on behalf of oppressed Afrikaners. Among the sins it couldn’t forgive the British was the deadpan expression of Joseph Chamberlain, secretary of state for the colonies, when he toured the battlefields of South Africa. The paper had a point: the Boers fought – and lost – one of the first modern anti-imperialist struggles in Africa. Britain’s concentration camps in South Africa gave the world a glimpse of wars to come.
Le Petit Journal had a healthy print run, half a million in its heyday: it reeled in readers like idle fish on an appetising bait of faits divers. Parisian hoodlums – a particular type known as ‘apaches’ – were said to be keen browsers, partly because the paper loved to relate their fearsome deeds, and in return its editorial line rubbed off on them. They became human parchment for the journal’s opinions: in 1902 the police arrested 15 apaches and found they were covered in tattoos – among them, images of the Boer leader, Paul Kruger.
Apaches, as Luc Sante explains in The Other Paris, were propelled to fame by imaginative fin-de-siècle journalists and pamphleteers who felt the city was at risk from ‘an army of crime’.