Friday, September 28, 2007

Barnes on Félix Fénéon

Julian Barnes writes about Félix Fénéon for the London Review of Books: Behind the Gas Lamp", 4 October 2007 [Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon, translated by Luc Sante].

Excerpt from the Essay:

"In literary and artistic history he comes down to us in shards, kaleidoscopically. Luc Sante, in his introduction to Novels in Three Lines, describes him well as being ‘invisibly famous’ – and he was even more invisible to Anglophone readers until Joan Ungersma Halperin’s fine study of him appeared in 1988. Art critic, art dealer, owner of the best eye in Paris as the century turned, promoter of Seurat, the only galleryist Matisse ever trusted; journalist, ghost-writer for Colette’s Willy, literary adviser then chief editor of the Revue Blanche; friend of Verlaine, Huysmans and Mallarmé, publisher of Laforgue, editor and organiser of Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations; publisher of Joyce and translator of Northanger Abbey." Read the full essay at The London Review of Books website.

About the Book:

"The Nouvelles en trois lignes, here translated into English for the first time, is not, in any normal sense, a book, if that word implies authorial intent. In 1906, Fénéon worked for the newspaper Le Matin, and for some months was assigned to compose the faits divers column – known in hackdom as chiens écrasés ('run-over dogs'). He had at his disposal the wire services, local and provincial newspapers, and communications from readers. He composed up to twenty of these three-line fillers in the course of his evening shift. They were printed – unsigned, of course – and read for a quick smile or breath-intake or head-shake, and then forgotten. They would not have been identifiable from the general mass of faits divers had not Fénéon’s mistress, Camille Plateel, dutifully cut out his contributions – all 1220 of them – and stuck them in an album (his wife apparently did the same). Jean Paulhan then discovered and published them. It is an interesting position, to be the literary executor of a writer who aspired only to silence and resolutely refused publication in his lifetime. Paulhan duly brought out this unintended, unauthored, unshaped, unofficial ‘book’, and Fénéon’s underground literary reputation started to go overground." (Order via the LRB Bookshop, Amazon, or


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