Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) labored in anonymity in a French war office, but he was also a critic, publisher, journalist, anarchist, and “literary instigator.” His Novels in Three Lines originally appeared in the French newspaper Le Matin, and were culled from stories covered therein. They show his precision with language, his dry wit, and his calculated assessment of things. As translator and introducer Luc Sante writes, “His politics, his aesthetics, his curiosity and sympathy are all on view, albeit applied with tweezers and delineated with a single-hair brush.” We celebrate his birthday on June 22.
Also born on June 22 was the Dutch author Nescio, or Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh (1882-1961). Nescio—Latin for “I don’t know”—was a writer whose growing reputation and cult readership have marked him as a figure in world literature. His stories are inhabited by wastrels and charmers, the young and the no-longer-young, the bourgeois and the bohemian. He was a great stylist, capturing the mercantile city of Amsterdam and its bucolic surrounding countryside with equal vitality. NYRB has published the first English language edition of his work with Damion Searls’s translation of Amsterdam Stories, with an introduction by Joseph O’Neill.
On June 25 we celebrate the birth of Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy (1887-1938), who wrote the first patient’s-eye view of brain surgery. A Journey Round My Skull is a memoir of his brain tumor—the hallucinations it provoked and its treatment. What’s more, Karinthy manages to tell this story without being macabre or morbid. In his introduction to the book, Oliver Sacks calls it “a masterpiece,” and “one of the very best [medical memoirs].”