Arthur Adamov Biography


Born in 1908 to prosperous Russian parents of Armenian extraction, Arthur Adamov was educated primarily in French. The outbreak of World War I found the Adamov family on vacation in Germany, from which they escaped, with royal intervention, in order to seek refuge in Geneva, Switzerland, where the young Adamov was to receive much of his formal education. After a brief residence in Mainz, Germany, the sixteen-year-old Adamov found his way to Paris, where he was soon befriended by the early Surrealists and became editor of the periodical Discontinuité. Before long, however, Adamov’s writing career was interrupted by his first experience of the recurring mental and emotional disturbance later to be described at some length in L’Aveu. It was probably during this period that Adamov made the acquaintance of the brilliant, eccentric Antonin Artaud, now esteemed as one of the foremost theoreticians of contemporary drama, who shared with Adamov the affliction of mental illness.

During this period, Adamov first conceived a number of theories and positions that would stand him in good stead around the onset of middle age, when he began to write for the theater. Never really free of his Surrealist origins, Adamov as an artist came to value the lucidity provided by his neurosis, going so far as to assert that his madness gave him a visionary power denied to ordinary mortals. By the end of World War II, after a brief period of internment and two years’ residence in occupied Paris, Adamov had worked out his personal response to changes both internal (psychological) and external (political), a response articulated both in essays and in attempts at...

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Together with his contemporaries Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, Arthur Adamov (UH-da-muhv) first drew attention as a practitioner of the nontraditional, antirationalist trend in French drama that Martin Esslin would soon label the Theater of the Absurd. Like Beckett, an Irishman, and Ionesco, half Romanian, the Russian-born Adamov did not even begin writing plays until around the age of forty, and then in French. Before long, however, Adamov would renounce his apparent affinities with Ionesco and Beckett, opting instead for didactic, political theater in the manner of Bertolt Brecht, even going so far as to repudiate the early plays that had made his reputation and upon which much of it still rests. In general, Adamov’s political, or “epic,” plays proved less successful than his earlier, absurdist ones. In the mid-1960’s Adamov appeared to be attempting a fusion of his two characteristic styles toward the creation of a third. Long in failing health, Adamov died early in 1970 of a drug overdose, leaving more questions than answers concerning his rightful place in literary or dramatic history.

Born in Kislovodsk in 1908 to the wife of a prosperous oil well owner, Adamov spent his earliest childhood in the city of Baku, then the capital of the Russian petroleum industry. Despite his privileged circumstances, young Arthur always feared poverty, perhaps anticipating his eventual life on the fringes of Parisian art and culture. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 found the Adamov family on vacation in Germany, from which they managed to escape to Switzerland with royal intervention. The Russian Revolution caused further disruption in Adamov’s family life. The family moved to Mainz, Germany, and then to the outskirts of Paris.

Published as a poet before he turned seventeen, Adamov made many acquaintances among the Surrealists and cultivated the friendship of Antonin Artaud, later to be recognized among the major theorists of avant-garde theater. Like Adamov, Artaud was a deeply troubled individual prone to mental illness; he was also a visionary, whose radical approaches to dramatic concept and production would appear, years later, in some of Adamov’s more memorable plays. Unfortunately Artaud, for all of his demonstrable brilliance as a theorist, was all but incapable of writing plays. Adamov, meanwhile, remained on the fringes of Parisian culture, living off the income of occasional...

(The entire section is 991 words.)