Alfred Jarry 8 September 1873 – 1 November 1907) was a French symbolist writer who is best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896), a pataphysical work which depicts the bourgeoisie as the super-mediocre. He coined the term and philosophical concept of pataphysics, which uses absurd irony to portray symbolic truths (and playfully vice versa).
Jarry was born in Laval, Mayenne, France, and his mother was from Brittany. He was associated with the Symbolist movement. His play Ubu Roi is often cited as a forerunner of Dada and the Surrealist and Futurist movements of the 1920s and 1930s.
He wrote in a variety of hybrid genres and styles, prefiguring the postmodern, including novels, poems, short plays and opéras bouffes, absurdist essays and speculative journalism. His texts are considered examples of absurdist literature and postmodern philosophy. His father Anselme Jarry (1837–1895) was a salesman who descended into alcoholism, his mother Caroline, née Quernest (1842–1893), was interested in music and literature, but her family had a streak of insanity, and her mother and brother were institutionalized.
The couple had two surviving children, a daughter Caroline-Marie, called Charlotte (1865–1925), and Alfred. In 1879 Caroline left Anselme and took the children to Saint-Brieuc in Brittany.In 1888 the family moved to Rennes, where Jarry entered the lycée at 15. There he led a group of boys who enjoyed poking fun at their well-meaning, but obese and incompetent physics teacher, a man named Hébert. Jarry and his 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.