Félix Fénéon (1861 – 1944) was a protean if elusive figure in French culture around the time the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth. He more or less discovered Georges Seurat, promoted the post-Impressionists, edited Rimbaud’s Illuminations and Lautréamont’s Maldoror, edited the Revue blanche (where he employed, among others, Debussy, Gide, and Jarry), translated Poe and Jane Austen, and, as a publisher, saw into print the first translation of James Joyce into French. He also, in 1906, worked for the daily paper Le Matin, writing its faits-divers column, which was called “Nouvelles en trois lignes.” He turned the rubric from a flat listing of minor crimes and small disasters into a continuing stylistic tour-de-force, a darkly ironic catalog of daily miseries and comedies rendered in prose so sprung and lean the entries sound like a series of haiku.

He led another life, too, as a committed anarchist in a period when artists, intellectuals, and ordinary workers waged a bitter, ongoing war against the state. He sheltered wanted anarchists, edited anarchist journals, may indeed have set a bomb himself (although the evidence against him is highly circumstantial)—and did all those things while employed as a clerk in the Ministry of War. He was arrested on rather amorphous charges pertaining to sedition and included in a mass show trial in 1894 but was acquitted. He made many contributions to the anarchist press of the early 1890s, nearly all of them anonymous. Some prefigure the style and preoccupations of his Nouvelles en Trois Lignes (which I edited and translated into English as Novels in Three Lines, published by New York Review Books in 2007). A selection follows. The chief distinction between the two, besides that of relative length, is that while in his Le Matin columns his emotions are subtle and implied, here they are overt.


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