She Fled Across The Fields

drawing of Le Matin editor Felix Feneon, by Jeanne Picq

Like some provincial papers in the U.S., and The New Yorker’s “Notes From All Over,” many European papers print a section of odd fillers, called faits divers. They run local stories and pick up more from other papers and wire services. Correspondents send them in.

One of the most noted faits divers editors, who in 1906 worked at Le Matin (for which, coincidentally, I have written many columns myself) was Félix Fénéon (1861-1944). He was a most singular man: a fully committed anarchist (arrested over one bombing but surely involved in others); an eminent editor, critic and publisher (who attended Mallarmé’s salon), and an art dealer. He cultivated a mysterious personality and an expressionless face, and usually wrote and edited anonymously. His thousand-odd unsigned lapidary faits divers for Le Matin were preserved by his mistress. They have been translated by Luc Sante and published by The New York Review of Books as “Novels in Three Lines,” a misrendering of the title of Fénéon’s column, Nouvelles [properly, “news”] En Trois Lignes.

The late 19th century European anarchists that Fénéon frequented resembled in some ways the Islamic terrorists today: Their murky objectives were probably not furthered by their fondness for bombings and assassinations – hundreds of attacks a year. Incidentally, when an anarchist bombed the Café Terminus, killing one patron and wounding twenty, the futurist poet Laurent Tailhade pronounced grandiosely, “What is the importance of some vague humans compared to a beautiful gesture?”

But God is not mocked: The very next anarchist bombing, of the restaurant of the Hotel Foyot, had one victim: the futurist poet Tailhade.

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Anyway, here are some of Fénéon’s austere nuggets:

In the vicinity of Noisy-sur-École, M. Louis Delillieau, 70, dropped dead of sunstroke. Quickly his dog Fido ate his head.

Schoolboys in Vibraye, Sarthe, attempted to circumcise a child. He was rescued, although dangerously lacerated.

Catherine Rosello of Toulon, mother of four, got out of the way of a freight train. She was then run over by a passenger train.

No real gold! At least the finger of Saint Louis had to be authentic, so the people who robbed the church at Poissy took it.

“Ouch!” cried the cunning oyster eater, “A pearl!” Someone at the next table bought it for 100 francs. It had cost 30 centimes at the dime store.

On the bowling lawn a stroke leveled M. André, 75, of Levallois. While his ball was still rolling he was no more.

Scheid, of Dunkirk, fired three times at his wife. Since he missed every shot, he decided to aim at his mother-in-law, and connected.

A dishwasher from Nancy, Vital Frérotte, who had just come back from Lourdes cured forever of tuberculosis, died Sunday by mistake.

Love. In Mirecourt, the weaver Colas lodged a bullet in the brain of Mlle Fleckenger, and treated himself with equal severity.

In the military zone, in the course of a duel over scrawny Adeline, basketweaver Capello stabbed bearbaiter Monari in the abdomen.

Strikers have invaded the Dion factory in Puteaux, leading the workers there astray. “Only cowards work,” their banner read.

Just married, the Boulches of Lambézellec, Finistère, were already so drunk it was necessary to lock them up within the hour.

Since childhood Mlle Mélinette, 16, had harvested artificial flowers from the tombs of Saint-Denis. That’s over; she’s in the workhouse.

X had put on an official cap. He could then cut at his leisure 8,700 feet of telephone cable along National Highway 19.

Again and again Mme Couderc, of Saint-Ouen, was prevented from hanging herself from her window bolt. Exasperated, she fled across the fields.

Finding his daughter, 19, insufficiently austere, Jallat, watchmaker of Saint-Étienne, killed her. It is true that he has eleven children left.

M. Abel Bonnard, of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, who was playing billiards, put out his left eye falling on his cue.

Scratching himself with a revolver with an overly sensitive trigger, M. Édouard B. removed the tip of his nose in the Vivienne precinct house.

M. Colombe, of Rouen, killed himself with a bullet yesterday. His wife had shot three of them at him in March, and their divorce was imminent.

He had bet he could drink 15 absinthes in succession while eating a kilo of beef. After the ninth, Théophile Papin, of Ivry, collapsed.

The sinister prowler seen by the mechanic Gicquel near Herblay train station has been identified: Jules Ménard, snail collector.

Having just sniffed a pinch of snuff, A. Chevrel sneezed and, falling from the hay wagon he was bringing back from Pervenchères, Orne, died.

At Menzeldjémil, Tunisia, Mme Chassoux, an officer’s wife, would have been murdered had her corset not stopped the blade.

Jostled by the convulsive piety of a pilgrim at Lourdes, Monsignor Turinaz injured himself on face and thigh with his monstrance.

The pastor of Labry, Meurthe-et-Moselle, reproved a marrying couple, and the constable then had to protect him from the wedding guests.

Like so many others, Patoureau was the last survivor of the siege of Antwerp. He died at Onzain, Loire-et-Cher, aged 98 years and 8 months.

Fontanières stabbed Castères. Replete with the favors of Mlle Lacombe, like so many citizens of Toulouse, they were mutually jealous.

Eugène Périchot, of Pailles, near Saint-Maixent, entertained at his home Mme Lemartrier. Eugène Dupuis came to fetch her. They killed him. Love.

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Rightly did G.B. Shaw write, “When we want to read of the deeds that are done for love, whither do we turn? To the murder column.”

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Another class of sinister epitome is the obituaries in the London Telegraph composed by Hugh Massingberd, whose own was sent to me recently by Frank Cabot. Let us start with Lt. Col. Geoffrey Knowles, who “as a subaltern was bitten in the buttocks by a bear – he survived but the bear expired.”

A 1991 classic started thus: “The Third Lord Moynihan, who has died in Manila, aged 55, provided through his character and career ample ammunition for critics of the hereditary principle.

His chief occupations were bongo drummer, confidence trickster, brothel-keeper, drug-smuggler and police informer.”

In 1988 a Massingberd gem eulogized West End restaurant proprietor Peter Langan: “Often he would pass out amid the cutlery before doing any damage, but occasionally he would cruise menacingly beneath the tables, biting unwary customers’ ankles.” Pure Fénéon! On the one occasion when, patronizing his establishment, I saw Langan in action; he let fall his trousers and mooned the customers. Being fortunately in a state of high alert, I escaped biting. ■