When Alfred Jarry died in 1907 at the age of thirty-four, he was a legendary figure in Paris—but this had more to do with his bohemian lifestyle and scandalous behavior than his literary achievements. A century later, Jarry is firmly established as one of the leading figures of the artistic avant-garde.
Even so, most people today tend to think of Alfred Jarry only as the author of the play Ubu Roi, and of his life as a string of outlandish “ubuesque” anecdotes, often recounted with wild inaccuracy. In this first full-length critical biography of Jarry in English, Alastair Brotchie reconstructs the life of a man intent on inventing (and destroying) himself, not to mention his world, and the “philosophy” that defined their relation.
Brotchie alternates chapters of biographical narrative with chapters that connect themes, obsessions, and undercurrents that relate to the life. The anecdotes remain, and are even augmented: Jarry’s assumption of the “ubuesque,” his inversions of everyday behavior (such as eating backward, from cheese to soup), his exploits with gun and bicycle, and his herculean feats of drinking. But Brotchie distinguishes between Jarry’s purposely playing the fool and deeper nonconformities that appear essential to his writing and his thought, both of which remain a vital subterranean influence to this day.
About the Author
Alastair Brotchie is a founder of the London publishing house Atlas Press, a Regent of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique in Paris, and the editor of books and anthologies on Surrealism, Dada, and the Oulipo.
Alfred Jarry provides many new facts, some pertinent analyses, and a clutch of outrageously amusing yarns.
—Mark Polizzotti, Bookforum
Alastair Brotchie brilliantly evokes the avant-garde artistic movements of fin-de-siecle Paris in all their glittering grubbiness.
—Charlotte Keith, Varsity
Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life by Alastair Brotchie is a superb chronicle of the life and times of the fin-de-siècle French writer.
—Times Literary Supplement — (Book of the Year 2011)
An enthralling, scrupulously researched, and elegantly written biography.
—Mark Ford, The New York Review of Books
[Brotchie] gives us an unmatched and vivid picture of the belle epoque's avant-garde, of which Jarry was an important, original part.
—Michael Moorcock, The Guardian
...[Brotchie's] tone is clear and informed, rooted in a familiarity with Jarry that has something quite personal about it, which is all for the good.
—Allan Graubard, Leonardo On-Line
Brotchie's archival work and translations are meticulous…Highly recommended.—M. Gaddis Rose
[Brotchie] skilfully moves between providing a relatively straightforward and sympathetic account of the writer's life and critically sorting through the narratives that have sustained and shaped the long-standing image of Jarry ... Brotchie's refusal to mythologise stands as the book's greatest strength, and as a fitting testament to the manifold complexity of Alfred Jarry.
—Karl Whitney, 3:AM Magazine
How a schoolboy caricature evolved into Jarry's best-known creation, his monstrous 'every-man', Père Ubu, is a fascinating story which Brotchie tells with impressive scholarship, sympathy and wit.
—Peter Blegvad, The Spectator
Brotchie's painstaking and drily funny biography is now the most ample account of Jarry and his importance that is available in our language; it is unlikely ever to be bettered.
—Kevin Jackson, The Literary Review
That Jarry comes across as both more and less than we might expect from his reputation and his writings is a result of Brotchie so resolutely and expertly keeping his eye on the available facts and not allowing himself to wander into speculation and hero-worship.
—William Bamberger, Rain Taxi