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.)