“With its horrible monsters and efflorescent skin diseases, a traveling freak show burned down in the park at Saint-Cloud.”
Luc Sante on Félix Fénéon’s Novels In Three Lines
Fénéon’s three-line news items, considered as a single work, represent a crucial if hitherto overlooked milestone in the history of modernism…. They are the poems and novels he never otherwise wrote, or at least did not publish or preserve. They demonstrate in miniature his epigrammatic flair, his exquisite timing, his pinpoint precision of language, his exceedingly dry humor, his calculated effrontery, his tenderness and cruelty, his contained outrage…. And they depict the France of 1906 in its full breadth, on a canvas of reduced scale but proportionate vastness. They might be considered Fénéon’s Human Comedy.
Responding to a call at night, M. Sirvent, café owner of Caissargues, Gard, opened his window; a rifle shot destroyed his face.
He enjoyed combining thematically related items into double- or triple-deckers:
Mme Fournier, M. Vouin, M. Septeuil, of Sucy, Tripleval, Septeuil, hanged themselves: neurasthenia, cancer, unemployment.
He constructed what can sound like short stories in concentrated tablet form:
The schoolchildren of Niort were being crowned. The chandelier fell, and the laurels of three among them were spotted with a little blood.
At five o’clock in the morning, M.P. Bouget was accosted by two men on Rue Fondary. One put out his right eye, the other his left. In Necker.
Sometimes it seems that the three lines can contain the substance of an entire novel:
Eugène Périchot, of Pailles, near Saint-Maixent, entertained at his home Mme Lemartrier. Eugène Dupuis came to fetch her. They killed him. Love.
. . . Occasionally an entry achieves the frozen perfection of an epigram:
On the bowling lawn a stroke leveled M. André, 75, of Levallois. While his ball was still rolling he was no more.
—from Luc Sante’s introduction to Félix Fénéon, Novels in Three Lines, at http://www.nybooks.com/shop/product?product_id=7039
The Misses Wimerlin, of Saint-Denis, are 12 and 13. Commissioner Souliard sent their father to jail because he deflowered them.
M. Pierre de Condé was arrested at Craches for rape. Alcide Lenoux, who was also implicated, fled. The two fauns are 16 and 18.
Stubbornly incognito and traveling by automobile, Italy’s queen mother set out early from Dijon, attended Mass at Beaune and reached Aix.
Four times in one week farm servant Marie Choland set her employer’s farm on fire. Now she can burn down Montluçon prison.
Barnier, an old drunk of Chatelus-Saint-Marcellin, Loire, disemboweled his son Jean-Marie, father of two.
Since their petition for divorce was languishing and her husband was a mere 70, Mme. Hennebert, of Saint-Martin-Chennetron, killed him.
Mme. Fournier, M. Vouin, M. Septeuil, of Sucy, Tripleval, Septeuil, hanged themselves: neurasthenia, cancer, unemployment.
In the woods of Noisiel lay in two parts, under the elm from which he had hanged himself, Litzenberger, 70, his head picked clean by rooks.
Poincet, of Montgeron, fell under his scavenger’s cart, his head wedging one wheel, his legs the other. He will be trepanned.
A young woman in a state of decomposition was fished out at Choisy-le-Roi. Diamond bands adorned her left ring finger.
Watchmaker Paul S. was murdered in the Bois de Vincennes, according to the newspapers. Not at all. He had taken silver nitrate.
At Boucicaut, where he worked as a nurse, Lechat had at his disposal some mighty toxins. But he preferred to asphyxiate himself.
Brandy, he thought. Actually, it was carbolic acid. Thus Philibert Faroux, of Noroy, Oise, outlived his spree by a mere two hours.