Alfred Jarry

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16th century · 17th century
18th century · 19th century
20th century · Contemporary

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Alfred Jarry (8 September 1873 – 1 November 1907) was a French writer born in Laval, Mayenne, France, not far from the border of Brittany; he was of Breton descent on his mother's side.

Best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896), which is often cited as a forerunner to the surrealist theatre of the 1920s and 1930s, Jarry wrote in a variety of genres and styles. He wrote plays, novels, poetry, essays and speculative journalism. His texts present some pioneering work in the field of absurdist literature. Sometimes grotesque or misunderstood (e.g. the opening line in his play Ubu Roi, "Merdre!", has been translated into English as "Pshit!", "Shitteth!", "Shittr!", "Shikt!", "Shrit!", "Pschitt!", and "Shitsky!"), he invented a pseudoscience called 'Pataphysics.


Biography and works

A precociously brilliant student, Jarry enthralled his classmates with a gift for pranks and troublemaking.

At the lycée in Rennes when he was 15, he led of a group of boys who devoted much time and energy to poking fun at their well-meaning, but obese and incompetent physics teacher, a man named Hébert. Jarry and classmate Henri Morin wrote a play they called Les Polonais and performed it with marionettes in the home of one of their friends. The main character, Père Heb, was a blunderer with a huge belly; three teeth (one of stone, one of iron, and one of wood); a single, retractable ear; and a misshapen body. In Jarry's later work Ubu Roi, Père Heb would develop into Ubu, one of the most monstrous and astonishing characters in French literature.

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