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Alfred Jarry (1873) Options
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Alfred Jarry (1873)

Jarry was a French writer. After exhausting the inheritance that had allowed him to move to Paris at 18, he led a life of calculated buffoonery. His 1896 farce, Ubu Roi, is considered a forerunner of theatre of the absurd and of Surrealism. It featured the grotesque Père Ubu, a repulsive and cowardly hero based on one of his former teachers. The brilliant imagery and wit of his works usually lapse into unintelligible symbolism. A heavy drinker, he died at 34. What was his last request? More...
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Jarry, Alfred
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Alfred Jarry
Alfred Jarry
Alfred Jarry.jpg
Alfred Jarry
Born 8 September 1873
Laval, Mayenne, France
Died 1 November 1907 (aged 34)
Paris, France
Occupation Writer and Dramatist
Nationality French
Influenced

Eugene Ionesco, Dario Fo, Giannina Braschi, Guillaume Apollinaire, André Salmon, Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso, Fernando Arrabal

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Alfred Jarry (8 September 1873 – 1 November 1907) was a French symbolist 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, he invented a fictional type of philosophy 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 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.

At 17 Jarry passed his baccalauréat and moved to Paris to prepare for admission to the École Normale Supérieure. Though he was not admitted, he soon gained attention for his original poems and prose-poems. A collection of his work, Les minutes de sable mémorial, was published in 1893.

That same year, both his parents died, leaving him a small inheritance which he quickly spent.

Jarry had meantime discovered the pleasures of alcohol, which he called "my sacred herb" or, when referring to absinthe, the "green goddess". A story is told that he once painted his face green and rode through town on his bicycle in its honour (and possibly under its influence).

When he was drafted into the army in 1894, his gift for turning notions upside down defeated attempts to instill military discipline. The sight of the small man in a uniform much too large for his less than 5-foot frame—the army did not issue uniforms small enough—was so disruptively funny that he was excused from parades and marching drills. Eventually the army discharged him for medical reasons. His military experience eventually inspired the novel Days and Nights.
Père Ubu (later:Ubu Roi), from a drawing by Alfred Jarry

Jarry returned to Paris and applied himself to writing, drinking, and the company of friends who appreciated his witty, sweet-tempered, and unpredictable conversation. This period is marked by his intense involvement with Remy de Gourmont in the publication of L'Ymagier, a luxuriously produced "art" magazine devoted to the symbolic analysis of medieval and popular prints. Symbolism as an art movement was in full swing at this time and L'Ymagier provided a nexus for many of its key contributors. Jarry's play Caesar Antichrist (1895) drew on this movement for material. This is a work that bridges the gap between serious symbolic meaning and the type of critical absurdity with which Jarry would soon become associated. Using the biblical Book of Revelation as a point of departure, Caesar Antichrist presents a parallel world of extreme formal symbolism in which Christ is resurrected not as an agent of spirituality but as an agent of the Roman Empire that seeks to dominate spirituality. It is a unique narrative that effectively links the domination of the soul to contemporaneous advances in the field of Egyptology such as the 1894 excavation of the Narmer Palette, an ancient artifact used for situating the rebus within hermeneutics.

The spring of 1896 saw the publication, in Paul Fort's review Le Livre d'art, of Jarry's 5-act play Ubu Roi—the rewritten and expanded Les Polonais of his school days. Ubu Roi's savage humor and monstrous absurdity, unlike anything thus far performed in French theater, seemed unlikely to ever actually be performed on stage. However, impetuous theater director Aurélien-Marie Lugné-Poe took the risk, producing the play at his Théâtre de l'Oeuvre.

On opening night (10 December 1896), with traditionalists and the avant-garde in the audience, King Ubu (played by Firmin Gémier) stepped forward and intoned the opening word, "Merdre!" (often translated as "Pshit" or "Shittr!" in English). A quarter of an hour of pandemonium ensued: outraged cries, booing, and whistling by the offended parties, countered by cheers and applause by the more degenerate contingent. Such interruptions continued through the evening. At the time, only the dress rehearsal and opening night performance were held, and the play was not revived until after Jarry's death.

The play brought fame to the 23-year-old Jarry, and he immersed himself in the fiction he had created. Gémier had modeled his portrayal of Ubu on Jarry's own staccato, nasal vocal delivery, which emphasized each syllable (even the silent ones). From then on, Jarry would always speak in this style. He adopted Ubu's ridiculous and pedantic figures of speech; for example, he referred to himself using the royal we, and called the wind "that which blows" and the bicycle he rode everywhere "that which rolls".

Jarry moved into a flat which the landlord had created through the unusual expedient of subdividing a larger flat by means of a horizontal rather than a vertical partition. The diminutive Jarry could just manage to stand up in the place, but guests had to bend or crouch. Jarry also took to carrying a loaded revolver. In response to a neighbor's complaint that his target shooting endangered her children, he replied, "If that should ever happen, ma-da-me, we should ourselves be happy to get new ones with you".


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