Eugène Ionesco: Wikis


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Eugène Ionesco
Born 26 November 1909(1909-11-26)
Slatina, Romania
Died 28 March 1994 (aged 84)
Paris, France
Occupation playwright, dramatist
Nationality Romanian, French
Writing period (1931–1994)
Genres Theatre
Literary movement Avant-garde, Theatre of the Absurd

Eugène Ionesco (born Eugen Ionescu, Romanian pronunciation: [e.uˈd​͡ʒen i.oˈnesku]; November 26, 1909 – March 28, 1994) was a Romanian and French playwright and dramatist, one of the foremost playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd. Beyond ridiculing the most banal situations, Ionesco's plays depict in a tangible way the solitude and insignificance of human existence.



Ionesco was born in Slatina, Olt County, to a Romanian father of the Orthodox religion and a mother of French and Greek-Romanian heritage, whose religion was Protestant (the religion into which her father was born and to which her originally Greek Orthodox mother had converted).[1] Eugène himself was baptized into the Romanian Orthodox religion. Many sources cite his birthdate as 1912, this error being due to vanity on the part of Ionesco himself.[2]

He spent most of his childhood in France, and, while there, had an experience he claimed affected his perception of the world more significantly than any other. As Deborah B. Gaensbauer describes in Eugene Ionesco Revisited, "Walking in summer sunshine in a white-washed provincial village under an intense blue sky, [Ionesco] was profoundly altered by the light."[3] He was struck very suddenly with a feeling of intense luminosity, the feeling of floating off the ground and an overwhelming feeling of well-being. When he "floated" back to the ground and the "light" left him, he saw that the real world in comparison was full of decay, corruption and meaningless repetitive action. This also coincided with the revelation that death takes everyone in the end.[4] Much of his later work, reflecting this new perception, demonstrates a disgust for the tangible world, a distrust of communication, and the subtle sense that a better world lies just beyond our reach. Echoes of this experience can also be seen in references and themes in many of his important works: characters pining for an unattainable "city of lights" (The Killer, The Chairs) or perceiving a world beyond (A Stroll in the Air); characters granted the ability to fly (A Stroll in the Air, Amédée); the banality of the world which often leads to depression (the Bérenger character); ecstatic revelations of beauty within a pessimistic framework (Amédée, The Chairs, the Bérenger character); and the inevitability of death (Exit the King).

He returned to Romania with his father in 1925 after his parents divorced. There he attended Saint Sava National College, after which he studied French Literature at the University of Bucharest from 1928 to 1933 and qualified as a teacher of French. While there he met Emil Cioran and Mircea Eliade, and the three became lifelong friends.

In 1936 Ionesco married Rodica Burileanu. Together they had one daughter for whom he wrote a number of unconventional children's stories. He and his family returned to France in 1938 for him to complete his Doctoral Thesis. Caught by the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he remained there, living in Marseille during the war before moving with his family to Paris after its liberation in 1944.

Ionesco was made a member of the Académie française in 1970[5] He also received numerous awards including Tours Festival Prize for film, 1959; Prix Italia, 1963; Society of Authors Theatre Prize, 1966; Grand Prix National for theatre, 1969; Monaco Grand Prix, 1969; Austrian State Prize for European Literature, 1970; Jerusalem Prize, 1973; and honorary Doctoral Degrees from New York University and the Universities of Leuven, Warwick and Tel Aviv. Eugène Ionesco died at age 84 on March 28, 1994 and is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

Ionesco the author

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Writing in Romania

Though best known as a playwright, plays were not his first chosen medium. He started writing poetry and criticism, publishing in several Romanian journals. Two early writings of note are Nu, a book criticizing many other writers including prominent Romanian poets, and Hugoliade, or, The grotesque and tragic life of Victor Hugo a satirical biography mocking Victor Hugo's status as a great figure in French literature. The Hugoliade includes exaggerated retellings of the most scandalous episodes in Hugo's life and contains prototypes for many of Ionesco's later themes: the ridiculous authoritarian character, the false worship of language.

The origins of his first play

Like Samuel Beckett, Ionesco came to the theatre late: he did not write his first play until 1948 (La Cantatrice chauve, first performed in 1950 with the English title The Bald Soprano). At the age of 40 he decided to learn English using the Assimil method, conscientiously copying whole sentences in order to memorize them. Re-reading them, he began to feel that he was not learning English, rather he was discovering some astonishing truths such as the fact that there are seven days in a week, that the ceiling is up and the floor is down; things which he already knew, but which suddenly struck him as being as stupefying as they were indisputably true.[6]

This feeling only intensified with the introduction in later lessons of the characters known as "Mr. and Mrs. Smith". To his astonishment, Mrs. Smith informed her husband that they had several children, that they lived in the vicinity of London, that their name was Smith, that Mr. Smith was a clerk, that they had a servant, Mary, who was English like themselves. What was remarkable about Mrs. Smith, he thought, was her eminently methodical procedure in her quest for truth. For Ionesco, the clichés and truisms of the conversation primer disintegrated into wild caricature and parody with language itself disintegrating into disjointed fragments of words. Ionesco set about translating this experience into a play, La Cantatrice Chauve, which was performed for the first time in 1950 under the direction of Nicolas Bataille. It was far from a success and went unnoticed until a few established writers and critics, among them Jean Anouilh and Raymond Queneau, championed the play.

Early plays

Ionesco's earliest works, and his most innovative, were one-act nonsense plays: La Cantatrice chauve (1950), La Leçon translated as The Lesson (1951), Les Chaises translated as The Chairs (1952), and Jacques ou la soumission translated as Jack, or The Submission (1955). These absurdist sketches, to which he gave such descriptions as "anti-play" (anti-pièce in French) express modern feelings of alienation and the impossibility and futility of communication with surreal comic force, parodying the conformism of the bourgeoisie and conventional theatrical forms. In them Ionesco rejects a conventional story-line as their basis, instead taking their dramatic structure from accelerating rhythms and/or cyclical repetitions. He disregards psychology and coherent dialogue, thereby depicting a dehumanized world with mechanical, puppet-like characters who speak in non-sequiturs. Language becomes rarefied, with words and material objects gaining a life of their own, increasingly overwhelming the characters and creating a sense of menace.

The full-length plays

With Tueur sans gages translated as The Killer (1959; his second full-length play, the first being Amédée, ou Comment s'en débarrasser in 1954), Ionesco began to explore more sustained dramatic situations featuring more humanized characters. Notably this includes Bérenger, a central character in a number of Ionesco's plays, the last of which is Le Piéton de l'air translated as A Stroll in the Air.

Bérenger is a semi-autobiographical figure expressing Ionesco's wonderment and anguish at the strangeness of reality. He is comically naïve, engaging the audience's sympathy. In The Killer he encounters death in the figure of a serial killer. In Rhinocéros he watches his friends turning into rhinoceroses one by one until he alone stands unchanged against this tide of conformism. It is in this play that Ionesco most forcefully expresses his horror of ideological conformism, inspired by the rise of the fascist Iron Guard in Romania in the 1930s. Le Roi se meurt translated as Exit the King (1962) shows him as King Bérenger 1st, an everyman figure who struggles to come to terms with his own death.

Ionesco's grave in Montparnasse cemetery, Paris. The inscription translates: Pray to the I don't-know-who: Jesus Christ, I hope

Later works

Ionesco's later work has generally received less attention. This includes La Soif et la faim translated as Hunger and Thirst (1966), Jeux de massacre (1971), Macbett (1972, a free adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth) and Ce formidable bordel (1973).

Apart from the libretto for the opera Maximilien Kolbe (music by Dominique Probst) which has been performed in five countries, filmed for television and recorded for release on CD, Ionesco did not write for the stage after Voyage chez les morts in 1981. However, La Cantatrice chauve is still playing at the Théâtre de la Huchette today, having moved there in 1952.

Theoretical writings

Like Shaw and Brecht, Ionesco also contributed to the theatre with his theoretical writings (Wellwarth, 33). Ionesco wrote mainly in attempts to correct critics who he felt misunderstood his work and therefore wrongly influenced his audience. In doing so, Ionesco articulated ways in which he thought contemporary theatre should be reformed (Wellwarth, 33). Notes and Counter Notes is a collection of Ionesco's writings, including musings on why he chose to write for the theatre and direct responses to his contemporary critics.

In the first section, titled "Experience of the Theatre", Ionesco claimed to have hated going to the theatre as a child because it gave him "no pleasure or feeling of participation" (Ionesco, 15). He wrote that the problem with realistic theatre is that it is less interesting than theatre that invokes an "imaginative truth", which he found to be much more interesting and freeing than the "narrow" truth presented by strict realism (Ionesco, 15). He claimed that "drama that relies on simple effects is not necessarily drama simplified" (Ionesco, 28). Notes and Counter Notes also reprints a heated war of words between Ionesco and Kenneth Tynan based on Ionesco's above stated beliefs and Ionesco's hatred for Brecht and Brechtian theatre.

Literary context

Ionesco is often considered a writer of the Theatre of the Absurd. This is a label originally given to him by Martin Esslin in his book of the same name, placing Ionesco alongside such contemporary writers as Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov. Esslin called them "absurd" based on Albert Camus' concept of the absurd, claiming that Beckett and Ionesco better captured the meaninglessness of existence in their plays than in work by Camus or Sartre. Because of this loose association, Ionesco is often mislabeled an existentialist. Ionesco claimed in Notes and Counter Notes that he was not an existentialist and often criticized existentialist figurehead Jean-Paul Sartre. Although Ionesco knew Beckett and honored his work, the French group of playwrights was far from an organized movement.

Ionesco claimed instead an affinity for ’Pataphysics and its creator Alfred Jarry. He was also a great admirer of the Dadaists and Surrealists, especially his fellow countryman Tristan Tzara. Ionesco became friends with the founder of Surrealism, André Breton, whom he revered. In Present Past, Past Present, Ionesco wrote, "Breton taught us to destroy the walls of the real that separate us from reality, to participate in being so as to live as if it were the first day of creation, a day that would every day be the first day of new creations." [7] Raymond Queneau, a former associate of Breton and a champion of Ionesco's work, was a member of the Collège de ’Pataphysique and a founder of Oulipo, two groups with which Ionesco was associated.[8]

Selected works


  • The Bald Soprano (1950, La Cantatrice Chauve)
  • Salutations (1950, Les Salutations)
  • The Lesson (1951, La Leçon)
  • The Chairs (1952, Les Chaises)
  • The Leader (1953, Le Maître)
  • Victims of Duty (1953 Victimes du devoir)
  • Maid to Marry (1953, La Jeune Fille à marier)
  • Amédée, or How to Get Rid of It (1954, Amédée ou comment s'en débarrasser)
  • Jack, or The Submission (1955, Jacques ou la soumission)
  • The New Tenant (1955, Le Nouveau Locataire)
  • The Picture (1955, Le Tableau)
  • Improvisation, or The Shepherd's Chameleon (1956, L'Impromptu de l'Alma)
  • The Future is in Eggs (1957, L'avenir est dans les œufs)
  • The Killer (1958, Tueur sans gages)
  • Foursome (1959, Scène à quatre)
  • Apprendre à marcher (1960)
  • Rhinocéros (1959, Rhinoceros)
  • Frenzy for Two or More (1962, Délire à deux)
  • Exit the King (1962, Le Roi se meurt)
  • A Stroll in the Air (1963, Le Piéton de l'air)
  • Hunger and Thirst (1964, La Soif et la faim)
  • La Lacune (1966)
  • Killing Game (1970, Jeux de massacre)
  • Macbett (1972)
  • Man With Bags (1977, L'Homme aux valises)
  • Journeys among the Dead (1980, Voyage chez les morts)
  • Le Vicomte (Unfinished, The Viscount)

Essays and theoretical writings

  • Nu (1934, No)
  • Hugoliade (1935)
  • La Tragédie du langage (1958)
  • Expérience du théâtre (1958)
  • Discours sur l'avant-garde (1959)
  • Notes et contre-notes (1962, Notes and Counternotes)
  • Fragments of a Journal (1966)
  • Découvertes (1969)
  • Antidotes (1977)

Novels and stories

  • La Vase (1956)
  • Le Piéton de l'air (1961, A Stroll in the Air)
  • La Photo du colonel (1962, The Colonel's Photograph and Other Stories)
  • Le Solitaire (1973, The Hermit)

Operatic adaptations and libretti


  • Elegii pentru fiinţe mici (1931, Elegy of Minuscule Beings)

Childrens Books

  • Story Number 1 For Children Under Three Years of Age (1967 with pictures by Etienne Delessert)
  • Story Number 2 For Children Under Three Years of Age (1970 with pictures by Etienne Delessert)

References and notes

  1. ^ Some sources such as the Who's Who in Jewish History (Routledge, London, 1995) and 'Ionesco Eugene' article in Encyclopaedia Judaica state that Ionesco's mother was Jewish. In his now famous diary, Romanian playwright Mihail Sebastian recorded that Ionesco told him his mother "had been Jewish, from Craiova." (Cf. Journal: 1935–1944, UK edition, 321.) Marie France-Ionesco, Eugène's daughter, details a more complex genealogy of her family. Marie-Therese Ipcar's father was Jean Ipcar, a Lutheran from France and her mother was Aneta Ioanid, a Romanian woman of Greek parentage and Greek-Orthodox religion. Jean's biological father was a Frenchman of Lutheran religion named Émile Marin. His mother, Anna, later married a man named Sebastien Ipcher, from who Jean got his surname, a French-Catholic variation of "Ipcher" or "Ipchier". Rumors of Marie-Therese's Jewish origin, Marie-France writes, may have originated from the fact that her paternal grandmother's surname is disputed between the French Lebel or German-Jewish Lindenberg. Whether Eugène Ionesco's great-grandmother was Jewish or not, is, according to Marie-France, unknown and irrelevant, especially in regard to Eugène Ionesco's positive view of Jews. Cf. Ionesco, Marie-France, Portrait de l'écrivain dans le siècle: Eugène Ionesco, 1909-1994, Gallimard, Paris, 2004.
  2. ^ Søren Olsen, Eugene Ionesco's life
  3. ^ Gaensbauer, Deborah B. Eugene Ionesco Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.
  4. ^ Ionesco, Eugene. Fragments of a Journal. Trans. Jean Stewart. London: Faber and Faber, 1968.
  5. ^ Ionescue.
  6. ^ Ionesco, La tragedie du langage, Spectacles,Paris, no. 2, July 1958.
  7. ^ Ionesco, Eugene. Present Past, Past Present. Trans. Helen R. Lane. De Capo Press, 1998, 149.
  8. ^ Lamon, Rosette C. Ionesco's Imperative: The Politics of Culture. University of Michigan Press, 1993.



Primary sources

  • Ionesco, Eugène. Conversations with Eugene Ionesco. Trans. Jan Dawson. New York: [Holt, Rinehart and Winston], 1966.
  • —. Fragments of a Journal. Trans. Jean Stewart. London: Faber and Faber, 1968.
  • —. Ionesco : Théâtre complet, Pléiade edition. ISBN 2070111989
  • —. Notes and Counter Notes: Writings on the Theatre. Trans. Donald Watson. New York: Grove Press, 1964.
  • —. Present Past, Past Present. Trans. Helen R. Lane. De Capo Press, 1998, p. 149. ISBN 0306808358
  • Calinescu, Matei. Ionesco, Recherches identitaires. Paris [Oxus Éditions], 2005. Romanian version under Eugène Ionesco: teme identitare si existentiale. Iasi [Junimea], 2006. ISBN (10)973-37-1176-4 & (13)978-973-37-1176-6

Secondary sources

  • The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French. ISBN 0198661258
  • Who's Who in Jewish History, Routledge, London, 1995. ISBN 0415125839
  • (Romanian) Călinescu, Matei. O carte despre Cioran, Eliade, Ionesco. On Cioran, Eliade, Ionesco. In: Revista 22, no. 636, 2002. [1]
  • Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1969.
  • Gaensbauer, Deborah B. Eugene Ionesco Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.
  • Hayman, Ronald. World Dramatists: Eugene Ionesco. New York: Frederick Unger, 1976.
  • Ionesco, Marie-France. Portrait de l'écrivain dans le siècle: Eugène Ionesco, 1909-1994. Paris: Gallimard, 2004. ISBN 2070748103
  • Lamon, Rosette C. Ionesco's Imperative: The Politics of Culture. University of Michigan Press, 1993. ISBN 0472103105
  • Lewis, Allan. Ionesco. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1972.
  • (Romanian) Pavel, Laura. Ionesco. Anti-lumea unui sceptic (Ionesco: The Anti-World of a Skeptic). Piteşti: Paralela 45, 2002. ISBN 973-593-686-0
  • Sebastian, Mihail. Journal: 1935-1944. London: Pimlico, 2003.
  • Wellwarth, George E. The Dream and the Play.

External links

Preceded by
Jean Paulhan
Seat 6
Académie française

Succeeded by
Marc Fumaroli


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

No society has been able to abolish human sadness, no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa.

Eugène Ionesco (26 November 190929 March 1994), born Eugen Ionescu, was a French-Romanian playwright and dramatist, one of the foremost playwrights of Theatre of the Absurd.


We are all Victims of Duty.
The whole history of the world has been governed by nostalgias and anxieties, which political action does no more than reflect and interpret, very imperfectly.
The absence of ideology in a work does not mean an absence of ideas; on the contrary it fertilizes them.
Good men make good rhinoceroses, unfortunately.
Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for humanity. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for me.
Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.
God is dead. Marx is dead. And I don’t feel so well myself.
  • That's not it. That's not it at all. You always have a tendency to add. But one must be able to subtract too. It's not enough to integrate, you must also disintegrate. That's the way life is. That's philosophy. That's science. That's progress, civilization.
  • There are now many invisible people on stage.
  • All the plays that have ever been written, from ancient Greece to the present day, have never really been anything but thrillers...
    Drama's always been realistic and there's always been a detective about...
    Every play's an investigation brought to a successful conclusion.
  • We are all Victims of Duty.
    • Victimes du Devoir [Victims of Duty] (1953)
  • I believe that what separates us all from one another is simply society itself, or, if you like, politics. This is what raises barriers between men, this is what creates misunderstanding.
    If I may be allowed to express myself paradoxically, I should say that the truest society, the authentic human community, is extra-social — a wider, deeper society, that which is revealed by our common anxieties, our desires, our secret nostalgias. The whole history of the world has been governed by nostalgias and anxieties, which political action does no more than reflect and interpret, very imperfectly. No society has been able to abolish human sadness, no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa.
    • "A Reply to Kenneth Tynan: The Playwright's Role" in The Observer (29 June 1958)
  • Every work of art (unless it is a psuedo-intellectualist work, a work already comprised in some ideology that it merely illustrates, as with Brecht) is outside ideology, is not reducible to ideology. Ideology circumscribes without penetrating it. The absence of ideology in a work does not mean an absence of ideas; on the contrary it fertilizes them.
    • "A Reply to Kenneth Tynan: The Playwright's Role" in The Observer (29 June 1958)
  • Logician: A cat has four paws.
    Old Gentleman: My dog had four paws.
    Logician: Then it's a cat.
    Old Gentleman: So my dog is a cat?
    Logician: And the contrary is also true.
  • Good men make good rhinoceroses, unfortunately.
    • Berenger from Rhinoceros (1959)
  • I am not capitulating.
    • Berenger's last sentence from Rhinoceros (1959)
  • I have no ideas before I write a play. I have them when I have finished it ... I believe that aritistic creation is spontaneous. It is for me.
    • Notes and Counter-Notes (1964), as translated by Donald Watson, p. 33
  • I am told, in a dream ... you can only get the answer to all your questions through a dream. So in my dream, I fall asleep, and I dream, in my dream, that I'm having that absolute, revealing dream.
    • Speaking of a dream not fully remembered, in Fragments of a Journal (1966)
  • It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.
    • Découvertes (1970), as quoted in Choosing the Future : The Power of Strategic Thinking (1997) by Stuart Wells, p. 15
  • But History was against me. History is right, objectively speaking. I'm just a historical dead end. I hope at least that my fate will serve as an example to you all and to posterity.
  • I thought that it was strange to assume that it was abnormal for anyone to be forever asking questions about the nature of the universe, about what the human condition really was, my condition, what I was doing here, if there was really something to do. It seemed to me on the contrary that it was abnormal for people not to think about it, for them to allow themselves to live, as it were, unconsciously. Perhaps it's because everyone, all the others, are convinced in some unformulated, irrational way that one day everything will be made clear. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for humanity. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for me.
    • The Hermit (1973)
  • It isn't what people think that's important, but the reason they think what they think.
    • As quoted in Peter's Quotations : Ideas for Our Time (1977) by Laurence J. Peter, p. 468; also in The Quantum Dice (1993) by Leonid Ivanovich Ponomarev, p. 50
  • Why do people always expect authors to answer questions? I am an author because I want to ask questions. If I had answers, I'd be a politician.
    • As quoted in The Writer's Quotation Book : A Literary Companion (1980) by James Charlton, p. 44
  • Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.
    • As quoted in Sunbeams : A Book of Quotations (1990) by Sy Safransky
  • It's not a certain society that seems ridiculous to me, it's mankind.
    • As quoted in Encyclopedia of World Biography (1998) edited by Suzanne Michele Bourgoin, Paula Kay Byers, Gale Research Inc, p. 132
  • God is dead. Marx is dead. And I don’t feel so well myself.
    • As quoted in Jewish American Literature : A Norton Anthology (2000) by Jules Chametzky, "Jewish Humor", p. 318
  • Prier le Je Ne Sais Qui
    J'espère : Jesus-Christ.
    • Pray to the I don't-know-who
      I hope : Jesus Christ.
      • Inscription on his tombstone.
    • Variant translation: Pray to the I don't-know-who: Jesus Christ, I hope.
      • As quoted in Parasuicidality and Paradox : Breaking Through the Medical Model (2007) by Ross D. Ellenhorn, p. 55

Quotes about Ionesco

  • Most people readily exchange their nightly dreams for what passes as reality in the morning papers. Not Eugéne Ionesco. The celebrated playwright of the absurd prefers to dwell on his own private late late shows.

External links

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