Eugène Ionesco Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: One of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century, Ionesco helped develop and popularize the genre of Theater of the Absurd through his then-experimental plays, which expose the emptiness of societal institutions.

Early Life

Eugène Ionesco was born on November 26, 1909, about one hundred miles west of Bucharest in the Romanian town of Slatina. His father, a lawyer, was Romanian, and his mother was French. The following year, Ionesco’s sister was born, and in 1914 the young family moved to Paris. His brother was born in 1915, and a year later, when Ionesco was four, the infant died as a result of meningitis. Against the tragic setting of his brother’s demise, Ionesco witnessed his parents’ hysterical and inane quarreling, caused by the loss of their youngest child. Following this the family moved no fewer than four times in one year, Ionesco staying with his mother while his sister went to live in a home for infants and his father took an apartment to prepare for his French law examinations.

In 1917, following Romania’s loss of neutrality in World War I, Ionesco’s father went back to his homeland to join the army. Ionesco’s mother was obliged to work in a factory to support her children when, after hearing no news from his father, she assumed that he had been killed in action. In 1921, the nine-year-old Ionesco developed anemia, and his mother took him and his sister to a small country village in the Mayenne. This village, La Chapell-Anthenaise, came to play an important part in Ionesco’s private mythology and appears in several of his writings, theatrical and nontheatrical. It was in this bucolic setting that he spent many happy months, perhaps the first such of his life. Back in Paris the following year, Ionesco soon discovered literature through reading Gustave Flaubert’s “Un Cœur simple” in Trois Contes (1877; Three Tales, 1903). Inspired, he began to write poems, a patriotic play, his memoirs, and sketches that would end with children destroying the family property and throwing their parents out the windows.

Ionesco’s father had not been killed in the war. He had merely discontinued communication with his family, and, after the war, joined the Romanian police. He returned to Paris in 1925 when, after divorcing his wife, he won custody of both children and took them back to Romania. There Ionesco’s patriotic French play became Romanian, but despite this and his brilliant success as a student in his new language, he considered himself an outsider and a foreigner in the country of his birth. His father remarried, but the two children did not get along with their new stepmother, and Ionesco’s sister was soon obliged to return to France. Ionesco stayed until he was seventeen, when he fled domestic strife to pursue French studies at the University of Bucharest in 1929.

Throughout the early to middle 1930’s, Ionesco pursued his studies in Romania while he published poems and literary critiques in Romanian reviews and magazines. He published a collection of essays entitled Na (no) in 1934, in which he first attacked and then reinstated several fashionable Romanian writers, creating a fusion of opposites that revealed an ability to present both sides of an issue without pronouncing judgment in favor of either side. This is an early sign of an affinity for revealing a situation while leaving the resolution up to the auditor that was to find itself at the heart of his theater. As political strife throughout Europe began to lead to World War II, Ionesco’s father was exercising a political flexibility that equaled his son’s own literary objectivity. As the Romanian government progressed treacherously toward Fascist alliance with a rising Nazi Germany, the elder Ionesco maneuvered his way along the slippery path of Balkan politics, always managing to find himself on the side of the government in power, while Ionesco found himself in increasing opposition. To his horror, it seemed that not only his own father but also all around him were throwing in their lot with the collective madness of bigoted and military nationalism.

Ionesco’s mother died in 1936, and in the following year Ionesco married a young philosophy student, Rodica Burileano. In 1938, he received a scholarship from the French government to go to Paris to write a thesis on the themes of sin and death in French poetry since Charles Baudelaire. He discontinued his research with the advent of World War II and the German occupation of France. During the war, the Ionescos lived in Marseilles, where Eugène eked out a meager living for them both as an editor for a publishing house. In 1944, a daughter, Marie-France Ionesco, was born to them. The war ended in 1945, and Ionesco’s father made a timely conversion to Romanian communism. Three years later, while trying to learn English, Ionesco stumbled upon the first of many devices that was to provide the inspiration and absurdity of his revolutionary theater.

Life’s Work

Attempting to learn English at home with the aid of a self-teaching manual, Ionesco was struck by the arbitrary and inane example conversations that were given in the text for the student to repeat. As the fictional characters in the lesson book bluntly stated obvious and inconsequential facts about themselves and each other, what was trivial became important, and what was important became trivial, with the end result that the language itself began to lose all meaning. Ionesco himself lost all interest in learning English as he began to use his English lessons as the basis for writing down his ideas about the loss of meaning in language. As he wrote, his writing, to express his intent, began to take the form of a play, and Ionesco found himself writing for a medium that he had shunned since his initial childhood efforts for what he perceived as its dishonesty.

Ionesco was introduced to Parisian theater director Nicolas Betaille, and the two men began reworking and rehearsing the new piece. On May 11, 1950, it premiered at the Théâtre des Noctambules as La Cantatrice chauve (The Bald Soprano, 1956). As the play opens Mr. and Mrs....

(The entire section is 2546 words.)

Eugène Ionesco Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The writer now known to the world as Eugène Ionesco was born November 26, 1909, as Eugen Ionescu in Slatina, Romania. His father (and namesake) was a Romanian lawyer, and his mother, née Thérèse Ipcar, was the daughter of a French engineer working in Romania. (When fame sought out Ionesco in his early forties, he advanced his publicized birth date to 1912 in an effort to appear younger; as he approached the age of eighty, he reversed his original decision. Many reference sources, however, continue to cite his birth year as 1912 even years after his death at age eighty-four.)

Shortly after Ionesco’s birth, his parents moved to Paris, where his father continued the study of law. In 1911 a daughter, Marilina, was born to the couple and in 1912 another son, Mircea, who would die in infancy of meningitis. In 1916 the elder Eugen Ionescu returned to Romania, presumably to take part in World War I, leaving his family in France. It later turned out that instead of serving in the military, he had joined the government police. After the war, even as his wife assumed that he had died in battle, he had used his political power to arrange for himself a convenient divorce and remarriage, adding insult to injury by demanding (and getting) custody of his children by his first wife. Thus it happened that the twelve-year-old Eugène returned with his sister to Romania, where he would continue and complete his studies.

By 1926, Thérèse Ipcar Ionescu had herself returned to Romania, settling in Bucharest where she found work in a bank. Following a dispute with his father and stepmother, young Eugène sought refuge in his mother’s apartment, to which his sister had already escaped. By the time he completed his secondary education in 1928, he was living in a furnished room at the home of an aunt, his father’s sister. The elder Ionescu, all the while refusing to pay alimony or child support, used his political connections to secure scholarships for his son at the University of Bucharest. Father and son would, however, remain divided on the issue of the son’s studies, with the father favoring engineering over literature. Notwithstanding, the future playwright pursued a degree in French and became a regular contributor of poetry and criticism to various literary magazines. In 1934 he created a minor scandal with a volume entitled simply Nu (No!), a collection of articles questioning most of the major (Romanian) literary figures and movements of the day.

Married in 1936 to Rodica Burileanu, whom he had met during their student days some six years earlier, Ionesco taught French in various Romanian schools, remaining active as a contributor to literary journals. In 1938, he obtained from the Romanian government a grant to study French literature in Paris. His projected thesis, on the themes of sin and death in French poetry since Baudelaire, would remain unfinished and perhaps unwritten as Ionesco read the writings of such thinkers as Nikolai Berdayev, Gabriel Marcel, and Jacques Maritain. With the declaration of World War II in 1939, Ionesco returned with his wife to Romania, where he taught French at a Bucharest secondary school. Before long, however, he thought better of his...

(The entire section is 1311 words.)

Eugène Ionesco Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Eugène Ionesco (ee-uh-NEHS-koh) was born in Slatina, Romania, on November 26, 1909. His father, also named Eugène Ionesco, was Romanian, and his mother, Marie-Thérèse Icard Ionesco, was French. The family moved to Paris in 1911. Young Eugène lived there with his mother and his sister until 1922, when his father, who had returned to Romania several years earlier, demanded that his children be sent to him. Eugène thus became a youngster with two countries. He later pointed to that experience as a source of his skepticism because after being taught in France that French was the most beautiful language in the world and the French people were the most courageous, he learned in Bucharest that Romanian was the most beautiful...

(The entire section is 981 words.)

Eugène Ionesco Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Eugène Ionesco’s theater carries elements of daily life to the extreme, gives them a subversive and comical dimension, and expresses the tragedy of the human condition with a wide, liberating laugh. In creating this work, Ionesco played a central role in the invention of a new kind of theater, a theater capable of reflecting the irrationality of humans and the fragility of their world. His plays seemed shocking at the time; they are now classics of the twentieth century.

(The entire section is 81 words.)

Eugène Ionesco Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The French dramatist Eugène Ionesco (ee-uh-nehs-koh) is noted particularly for his absurdist themes and techniques. He was born to Marie-Thérèse Icard Ionesco, who was French, and Eugène Ionesco, a Romanian lawyer. A year after his birth, the family moved to Paris, where he attended school. When he was eight years old, he became ill, and his mother took Ionesco and his sister to the country and placed them with a farm family at La Chapelle-Anthenaise, a village in Mayenne. In 1925 the family returned to Romania, where Ionesco attended secondary school and learned his native language. Four years later he was admitted to the University of Bucharest as a student of French language and literature. He soon began to write and publish...

(The entire section is 1022 words.)

Eugène Ionesco Biography

(Drama for Students)

Eugène Ionesco was born on November 26, 1912, in Slatina, Romania. When he was still an infant, his family moved to Paris, France, where...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Eugène Ionesco Biography

(Drama for Students)
Eugene Ionesco Published by Gale Cengage

Eugene Ionesco (Ionescu) was born in Slatina, Romania, on November 26, 1909, the son of a municipal official and a French mother working as a...

(The entire section is 495 words.)