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Alfred Jarry: an imagination in revolt

Fell, Jill (1997) Alfred Jarry: an imagination in revolt. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94342) (KAR id:94342)

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The prime concern of this thesis is to review the ground-breaking artistic and literary achievements of Alfred Jarry, (1873-1907) born in Laval (Mayenne) and best-known as originator of the Theatre of the Absurd through his play Ubu roi. The thesis follows his uncompromising personal campaign to break the artistic and literary moulds of the 1890’s and to introduce an aesthetic of challenge. Drawing from his novels and poetry and within the context of his expertise on marionettes, it links these to his theoretical pronouncements and highlights aspects of his aesthetic code and personal philosophy which have not so far been analysed. Parallel to his literary experiments, the thesis also tracks Jarry’s contribution to the visual arts and integrates an appreciation of his graphic work into the analysis of his artistic aims and satirical intentions.

Part I of the thesis relates to movement and the fixing of movement. It contrasts the archaic ornamental outline, as an abstract representation of spiritual and emotional impulses, with the photograph and with modem attempts to measure, record and classify physical movements and emotional phenomena. Jarry’s personal philosophy emerges from this debate, identifying his literary effort as a sustained campaign which set poetic and imaginative interpretations of the physical world above fixed scientific or artistic methodologies.

Part II follows his campaign into the practical arena of book design and art. An analysis of Jarry’s own artistic effort is balanced against his view of others’ art and his suspicion of art criticism. We shall see how he parodies traditional methods of describing art before offering his own novel alternatives.

Taking marionettes and the dance as twin points of focus, Part III brings together the motifs and arguments of the previous chapters. The last two chapters return to the question of the moving body as a vehicle of expression: that is as both potential receptacle and transmitter of a spiritual element that Jarry believed was, to a great extent, determined by form.

Jarry’s mission is shown to examine the very fundamentals of language: the communication of an idea or a feeling in concrete form. The final chapter demonstrates his habit of combining “high” intellectual rigour with “low” or vulgar source material. It also analyses the dilemma expressed throughout his work, namely the artistic need to give free rein to the imagination, projecting the writer into another world, combined with the artistic duty of communicating with an audience in this one.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94342
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Literature
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1600 Drama
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2022 13:42 UTC
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2022 13:42 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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