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200 × 130 mm
224 pages
42 illustrations
15 Jul 2010
Critical Lives

Alfred Jarry Jill Fell

Alfred Jarry’s creation of the monster-tyrant Ubu was a watershed in theatre history: his play Ubu Roi (whose origins lie in his mercilessly ridiculed former schoolmaster) on the Paris stage in December 1896 brought him instant notoriety. This legendary event is set at the heart of Alfred Jarry, balanced with other achievements that this multi-talented and influential writer crammed into his short life, among them his self-invented science of pataphysics.

The reader is steered through a minefield of Jarry anecdotes, tracing his childhood years in northwest France to Paris, where he rapidly made his reputation as a poet, playwright and social commentator. Jarry – surely the most memorable writer-bicyclist of the fin de siècle – also played a significant role in 1890s book design and was acquainted with an extraordinary cast of avant-garde characters, among them Gauguin, Rachilde, Wilde, Beardsley and Apollinaire. The quarrels that punctuated Jarry’s life, the impulsive extravagances, and the chronic addiction to alcohol that drained his meagre resources, together form the backcloth to this portrait of an obsessive writer committed to his craft, undeterred by his worsening circumstances.

Jarry’s spirited life and inventions clearly emerged as both model and caution to many of his successors in twentieth-century theatre, art and literature, and this new biography will inform and delight readers wishing to learn more about a fascinating and wholly unconventional individual.

‘Jill Fell economically indicates the salient qualities of Jarry’s multifarious writings, suggests various possible intertextual connections and highlights his gift for literary transposition of visual art. She fires our interest in his semi-autobiographical novels, notably Le Surmâle, a high-velocity tale of sexual marathons and mecanomorphic sporting prowess.’ – Times Literary Supplement

‘Fell gives clear summaries and thoughtful assessments of all the major works . . . an excellent introduction’ – Stride Magazine

‘Fell's attentive critical biography reclaims [Ubu Roi]’s charge, and the short, volatile career of its author.’ – Plays International

‘Fell's fascinated and fascinating accounts of Jarry’s theatrical innovations, both in relation to Ubu Roi and his theatrical vision in its entirety, inspire the reader. Her claim that the originality of Jarry's own imagination put him at the forefront of developments in modern art and in public taste is well supported by her thorough discussion of the variety and virulence of his life and work. The visual imagery included in the biography adds a stimulating dimension to the discussion, and some of the photographs . . . provide an invaluable insight into the involved and inspiring nature of Jarry's engagement with his contemporary society.’ – Modern Language Review

‘Jill Fell's biography is a welcome addition to the very few studies of Alfred Jarry published in English . . . a constructive overview of Jarry’s brief yet productive life, his work, and his influential role in the avant-garde. Suitably illustrated, this concise study will appeal to a broad readership and offers a relevant introduction to anyone (academic or non-academic) interested in Jarry's work.’ – French Studies

‘Jill Fell . . . brings a wealth of knowledge and interpretative skills to his oeuvre . . . The rubric of relating the artist’s life to his work offers a valuable opportunity for deep textual analysis . . . Fell intimates that we are better off teasing out his questions rather than searching for resolutions, and this is precisely the great value of her work.’ – H-France Review

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Jill Fell is an Associate Research Fellow at the Department of European Cultures and Languages, Birkbeck, University of London, and the author of Alfred Jarry: An Imagination in Revolt (2005).