Novels in Three Lines by Felix Fénéon
In 1906, French anarchist, art critic, and former clerk Felix Fénéon went to work for Le Matin, a Paris broadsheet, where he wrote the small news clips known as “faits divers” – sometimes translated as “hard facts”. Never more than a few lines, they covered the outliers of the everyday: oddities, obituaries, and accidents. Today, we would call these “Short Takes” or “News in Brief” and they’d be in a sidebar or tucked away on A17.
Fénéon’s faits divers are, instead, a world unto themselves. Consider this example:
On the bowling lawn a stroke leveled M. André, 75, of Levallois. While his ball was still rolling he was no more.
Or my favorite passage, this one:
The sinister prowler seen by the mechanic Gicquel near Herblay train station has been identified: Jules Ménard, snail collector.
There isn’t much to say, to add, to this work. Fénéon himself wrote anonymously, these stories saved only by the attention of his mistress who clipped them from the paper. He never published any of his own work in his lifetime, despite being closely tied to the vibrant intellectual culture of Paris and championing artists like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. It stands to reason that one could easily read these works as trifles or period pieces. Just as easily, however, can they sit with Nietzsche’s aphorisms of The Gay Science or Stein’s poetic experiments of Tender Buttons.
And by way of final recommendation, allow me to direct you toward the Fénéon Twitter feed, which is, in its own way, nearly perfect.
-Phil Rollins, Learning Technologies Developer (prllns on Goodreads)