Pen and ink drawing and inscription to Catulle Mendès

As a child, Jarry filled notebooks with humorous sketches, poems, and short plays. The writings he produced by the age of thirteen already include themes of his adult works— scatology, the macabre, a zest for puns, and the scavenging of classical literature—as well as prototypes of later characters and plays. Illustrations figure in many of these early works.

As an adult, he personalized books as gestures of what he called “artistic sympathy.” Jarry drew directly on this plain binding he commissioned and inscribed to Catulle Mendès. In 1893, both Mendès and the writer Marcel Schwob had awarded Jarry a prize for his puppet play titled Guignol. This short work introduced a new character to the literary landscape named Père Ubu, who describes himself as a “great pataphysician.” Mendès’s thoughtful analysis of Ubu roi three years later helped to solidify Jarry’s reputation.

Pen and ink drawing and inscription to Catulle Mendès (1841–1909), ca. 1896. On Les minutes de sable mémorial (Paris: Mercure de France, 1894). Collection of Jean Bonna.