Authors: Eugène Ionesco

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French playwright

Author Works

Drama:

La Cantatrice chauve, pr. 1950 (The Bald Soprano, 1956)

La Leçon, pr. 1951 (The Lesson, 1955)

Les Chaises, pr. 1952 (The Chairs, 1958)

Victimes du devoir, pr. 1953 (Victims of Duty, 1958)

Le Maître, pr. 1953 (The Leader, 1960)

La Jeune Fille à marier, pr. 1953 (Maid to Marry, 1960)

La Nièce-Épouse, pr. 1953 (The Niece-Wife, 1971)

L’Avenir est dans les œufs: Ou, Il Faut de tout pour faire un monde, pr. 1953 (The Future Is in Eggs: Or, It Takes All Sorts to Make a World, 1960)

Amédée: Ou, Comment s’en débarrasser, pr., pb. 1954 (Amédée: Or, How to Get Rid of It, 1955)

Jacques: Ou, La Soumission, pb. 1954 (Jack: Or, The Submission, 1958)

Théâtre, pb. 1954-1966 (4 volumes)

Le Nouveau Locataire, pr. 1955 (The New Tenant, 1956)

Le Tableau, pr. 1955 (The Picture, 1968)

L’Impromptu de l’Alma: Ou, Le Caméléon du berger, pr. 1956 (Improvisation: Or, The Shepherd’s Chameleon, 1960)

Plays, pb. 1958-1965 (6 volumes)

Tueur sans gages, pr., pb. 1958 (The Killer, 1960)

Rhinocéros, pr. in German 1959, pr. in French 1960 (Rhinoceros, 1959)

Les Salutations, pr. 1959 (Salutations, 1968)

Scène à quatre, pr. 1959 (Foursome, 1963)

Délire à deux, pr. 1962 (Frenzy for Two or More, 1965)

Le Roi se meurt, pr. 1962 (Exit the King, 1963)

Le Piéton de l’air, pr. 1962 (AStroll in the Air, 1964)

La Colère, pb. 1963 (Anger, 1968)

La Soif et la faim, pr. 1964 (Hunger and Thirst, 1968)

La Lacune, pr. 1966 (The Oversight, 1971)

L’Œuf dur: Pour préparer un oeuf dur, pb. 1966 (The Hard-Boiled Egg, 1973)

Jeux de massacre, pr., pb. 1970 (Killing Game, 1974; also pb. as Wipe-out Games, 1970)

Macbett, pr., pb. 1972 (English translation, 1973)

Ce Formidable Bordel, pr., pb. 1973 (A Hell of a Mess, 1975)

L’Homme aux valises, pr., pb. 1975 (Man with Bags, 1977)

Parlons français, pr. 1980

Voyages chez les morts: Ou, Thèmes et variations, pb. 1981 (Journeys Among the Dead: Themes and Variations, 1985)

Long Fiction:

Le Solitaire, 1973 (The Hermit, 1974)

Short Fiction:

La Photo du colonel, 1962 (The Colonel’s Photograph, 1967)

Screenplay:

La Vase, 1970 (The Mire, 1973)

Radio Play:

Le Salon de l’automobile, 1952 (The Motor Show, 1963)

Nonfiction:

Nu, 1934

Notes et contre-notes, 1962 (Notes and Counter-Notes, 1964)

Journal en miettes, 1967 (Fragments of a Journal, 1968)

Présent passé passé présent, 1968 (memoir; Present Past Past Present, 1972)

Un Homme en question, 1979

Le Blanc et le noir, 1980

Hugoliade, 1982 (Hugoliad: Or, The Grotesque and Tragic Life of Victor Hugo, 1987)

La Quête intermittente, 1988

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Story Number 1: For Children Under Three Years of Age, 1969

Story Number 2: For Children Under Three Years of Age, 1970

Story Number 3: For Children over Three Years of Age, 1971

Story Number 4: For Children over Three Years of Age, 1975

Biography

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 poetry and essays. In 1934 he published Nu, which contained a prejudiced and violent but brilliant attack on three great modernist Romanian writers.{$I[AN]9810001083}{$I[A]Ionesco, Eugène}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Ionesco, Eugène}{$I[geo]ROMANIA;Ionesco, Eugène}{$I[tim]1909;Ionesco, Eugène}

After his graduation in 1936 Ionesco married Rodica Burileano and accepted a position teaching French at the lycée in Bucharest. In 1938 he was awarded a government grant to prepare a doctoral thesis on the subject of death in modern French poetry, and he arrived in Paris with his wife in 1939, just as World War II was beginning. During the war he abandoned his research and instead channeled his energy into writing. For a time he worked for a publisher, but he eventually settled in Marseilles. In 1944 his daughter Marie-France was born. In 1948 Ionesco decided to learn English, and while reading a typical language primer it occurred to him that the dialogues were uncannily similar to the language of the contemporary theater. In extension of this observation he wrote a one-act play (in French, as were all his later plays) The Bald Soprano, which was a commentary on the impossibility of communicating as well as a parody of the theater. It interested some critics, but it was not a success; it opened in May, 1950, and closed six weeks later. Yet with this work Ionesco had found his genre and his mission: Like others in what came to be called the Theater of the Absurd, he wished to revolutionize the theater by pushing language and action past rationality.

In his second play, The Lesson, Ionesco used irrational violence to reveal the impotence of human reason; his meek language tutor takes to action, not words, and becomes a rapist and a murderer. Soon Ionesco was also filling his stage with objects to emphasize his theme of unreason: In The Chairs an old man attempts to impart his wisdom to an audience, which proves to be invisible. The theater audience looks at a stage full of chairs, with only three visible characters, one of whom is an orator who is deaf and dumb. It was a revival of The Chairs in 1956, four years after its first presentation, that brought Ionesco his first critical and popular success. Also in 1956 came the publication of Ionesco’s story “The Mire,” which Ionesco adapted into a screenplay seventeen years later. A year later, on a visit to London, he wrote The Killer, the first of four plays with the central character Bérenger, a brave, idealistic man who always loses. The best-known of these plays, Rhinoceros (which was also adapted for film), showed Bérenger fighting against an epidemic that is turning people into rhinoceroses. In part because the play had a real hero, determined to resist tyranny–the reference to Nazism was obvious–Rhinoceros established Ionesco’s international reputation, which was recognized in his own country by his being made Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in 1961.

Although his primary interest was the drama, Ionesco in 1962 published a collection of short stories, The Colonel’s Photograph, and a book of essays, Notes and Counter-Notes. In 1967 he began to publish his memoirs and that same year also ventured into children’s literature with a work called simply Story Number 1; this was followed by three other books for children. A number of Ionesco’s plays have been adapted as ballets. Killing Game, for example, was the basis of The Triumph of Death, a ballet regularly performed by the Royal Danish Ballet. The growth of Ionesco’s reputation was evidenced by a series of honors in the 1960’s and 1970’s, among them the Grand Prix Italia in 1963 for his ballet version of The Lesson; the Grand Prix du Théâtre de la Société des Auteurs in 1966 for his total work; Le Prix National du Théâtre, as well as a prize from Monaco, in 1969; and in 1971 an award from Austria. He was named a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in 1970, was elected to the Académie Française the following year, and in 1973 received the Jerusalem Prize from Israel, with special mention of the antitotalitarian play Rhinoceros.

Late in life Ionesco’s continuing creativity was directed toward experiments in other genres. The novel The Hermit appeared in 1973, and his new interest in art resulted in Le Blanc et le noir, a book of Ionesco’s sketches and reflections upon them. The concerns of an aging playwright are reflected in the 1988 volume of his memoirs, La Quête intermittente, in which Ionesco writes candidly about the physical indignities of old age. As he contemplates the future he feels guilt because his only child has dedicated her life to her parents, as well as a real fear that he will outlive his frail wife and have to face his final years without her.

From the first Ionesco’s plays asked more questions than they answered. His dramatic career began with plays that stressed the irrationality of human life. Yet as his essays and memoirs indicate, Ionesco could not be content with merely pointing out the uselessness of language and the meaninglessness of life. It is significant that even when Bérenger is killed in one play, his creator resurrects him in the next, so that he can carry on his quixotic activities. Ionesco was distrustful of political programs; he despised propagandistic drama, but he did urge humanity to battle against conformity, whether that expressed in clichés or seen in an epidemic of rhinoceros snouts.

BibliographyCoe, Richard N. Ionesco: A Study of His Plays. London: Methuen, 1971. One of several volumes written on Ionesco by the same critic beginning in 1961; the present volume includes a translation of the hitherto unpublished short play The Niece-Wife.Esslin, Martin. The Theater of the Absurd. Reprint. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968. Esslin’s groundbreaking study remains authoritative on Ionesco’s theater and on its situation within the context of twentieth century avant-garde drama.Gaensbauer, Deborah B. Eugène Ionseco Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1996. Replaces an earlier volume (1972) by Allan Lewis in Twayne’s World Authors series; generally sound critical and historical presentation of Ionesco’s dramatic canon and its legacy.Grossvogel, David I. The Blasphemers: The Theater of Brecht, Ionesco, Beckett, and Genet. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1964. Ionesco is placed in context with other contemporary experimental playwrights.Jacobsen, Josephine, and William R. Mueller. Ionesco and Genet: Playwrights of Silence. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968. Ionesco is placed in context with other contemporary experimental playwrights.Kluback, William, and Michael Finkenthal. The Clown in the Agora: Conversations About Eugène Ionesco. New York: P. Lang, 1998. Analyzes Ionesco’s philosophy as it is revealed in his work.Lamont, Rosette C., ed. Ionesco’s Imperatives: The Politics of Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993. Covers Ionesco’s political stance as reflected in his work, as well as his theories of drama and performance.Lane, Nancy. Understanding Eugène Ionesco. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. Published just before Ionesco’s death, Lane’s study is among the first to take note of Ionesco’s corrected birth date and other biographical details; generally sound readings of the major plays.Nottingham French Studies 35, no. 1 (1996). Edited by Steven Smith. A special Ionesco issue of the journal published by the University of Nottingham, collecting a dozen articles dealing with all aspects of the author’s thought and theater. Contributors include David Bradby, Ingrid Coleman Chafee, Emmanuel Jacquart, and Rosette Lamont.Rigg, Patrica. “Ionesco’s Berenger: Existential Philosopher or Philosophical Ironist?” Modern Drama 35 (December, 1992). Examines contrasting impulses in the Bérenger plays.Sheringham, Michael. “Honors for a Mad Baby.” Times Literary Supplement, September 25, 1992. Excellent survey of his drama.
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