Alphonse Allais

Alphonse Allais

Alphonse Allais (20 October 1854 – 28 October 1905) was a French writer and humorist, who was born in Honfleur, Calvados and who died in Paris.


He is the author of many collections of whimsical writings. A poet as much as a humorist, he cultivated the verse form known as holorhyme, i.e. made up entirely of homophonous verses, where entire lines are pronounced the same. For example:

Par les bois du djinn où s'entasse de l'effroi,
Parle et bois du gin, ou cent tasses de lait froid.

Allais wrote the earliest known example of a completely silent musical composition. His Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Great Deaf Man of 1897 consists of twenty-four blank measures. It predates similarly silent but intellectually serious works by John Cage and Erwin Schulhoff by many years. His prose piece "Story for Sara" was translated and illustrated by Edward Gorey.

Allais participated in humorous exhibitions, including those of the Salon des Arts Incohérents of 1883 and 1884, held at the Galerie Vivienne. At these, inspired by his friend Paul Bilhaud's 1882 exhibit of an entirely black painting entitled "Negroes fight in a tunnel" (which he later reproduced with a slightly different title), Allais exhibited arguably some of the earliest examples of monochrome painting: for instance his plain white sheet of Bristol paper Première communion de jeunes filles chlorotiques par un temps de neige (First Communion of Anemic Young Girls In The Snow) (1883), and a similar red work Apoplectic Cardinals Harvesting Tomatoes on the Shore of the Red Sea (Aurora Borealis Effect) (1884).

While consuming absinthe at café tables, Allais wrote 1600 newspaper and magazine pieces, and co-founded the Club of the Hydropaths (those allergic to water).[1]

He died in Paris.

A film based on his novel L'Affaire Blaireau appeared in 1958 as Neither Seen Nor Recognized . Earlier versions with the same title as the original novel appeared in 1923[2] and 1932.[3]

Miles Kington, humorous writer and musician, translated some of Allais' pieces into idiomatic English as The World of Alphonse Allais (UK).[4] In the United States, Doug Skinner has translated Allais's Captain Cap in a series of chapbooks,[5] as well as a collection of Allais's newspaper columns written under the name of drama critic Francisque Sarcey.[6]

Honfleur has a street, rue Alphonse Allais, and a school, Collège Alphonse Allais, named for him. There is a Place Alphonse-Allais in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. The Académie Alphonse-Allais has awarded an annual prize, the Prix Alphonse-Allais, in his honor since 1954.

«First Communion of Anaemic Young Girls In The Snow» 1883
Marche funèbre composée pour les funérailles d'un grand homme sourd
Marche funèbre composée pour les funérailles d'un grand homme sourd (Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man, 1897), a musical work consisting entirely of silence.

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Principal works

Alphonse Allais, Writer le Grande (~ 1899)


  1. Fenby, Jonathan (2015). The history of modern France. London: Simon & Schuster. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-4711-2930-8.
  2. The Blaireau Case (1923 at the Internet Movie Database
  3. The Blaireau Case (1932 at the Internet Movie Database
  4. Faber and Faber, London 2008, ISBN 978-0571-24738-7
  5. Black Scat Books, Fairfield, California 2013
  6. How I Became an Idiot, Black Scat Books, 2013

English translations published in the United States

External links

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