Felix Feneon (1861-1944) was an intriguing figure in turn of the century France. He was an anarchist (arrested once for possibly detonating bombs), a journalist, an art critic (who actually discovered Seurat, coining the word neoimpressionism and championing his art). He was the first French publisher to publish James Joyce and translated Austen’s Northanger Abbey into French. He ran in the circles of the rebellious and the artistic, without any desire to be known or visible to the larger public.
In 1906 he joined the staff of Le Matin where he wrote entries for the column called faits divers. In this column he was to report on various crimes and news stories of interest that were not big enough for headline stories, each item no more than three lines. The surrealists loved these faits divers, claiming that their succinct and implied narrative was the writing of the future. Some claimed they read like haiku.
When Feneon died in 1944, two scrapbooks were discovered of the three line stories he personally wrote, one scrapbook kept by his mistress and the other by his wife. These were gathered into a book and published soon after his death. They were recently translated into English. Novels in Three Lines (in French it is called Nouvelles en trois lignes , The news in three lines) holds 1220 of Feneon’s faits divers.
Feneon has created a unique overview of 1906 France as well as revealing a discerning and witty personality. When asked whether he would publish a collection of his own work, he said, “I aspire only to silence.” That may have been his wish, but I am glad he was unable to achieve it.