Reader's Encyclopedia

Ionesco, Eugene (1912 -

Rumanian-French dramatist of the Theatre of the absurd. Ionesco's earlier works are characterized by deliberate non sequiturs, the logic of nightmares, and strange metamorphoses. These grimly grotesque farces remain essentially comic because Ionesco is sympathetic to any human attempt, however inadequate, at communication and love.

Ionesco wrote his first play, The Bald Soprano, in the same year (1950) that he wrote La Lecon (prod 1951; translated as The Lesson, 1958) and Jacques, ou la soumission (prod 1955; translated as Jacques or Obedience, 1958). In La Lecon, the caricatures of a professor and his student attempt to communicate through a very arbitrary yet absurdly logical language, which the professor wields as an instrument of power with which to dominate and finally to rape and kill the student. Jacques, ou la soumission depicts the humiliation and final submission of a young rebel to the conformism of orthodox thinking, especially to the bourgeois sense of embarrassment about sexuality. Its sequel was L'Avenir est dans les oeufs (1951; translated as The Future Is in Eggs, 1960), which issues an insane exhortation to prolific reproduction. Victimes du devoir (1953; translated as Victims of Duty, 1958) is an exploration into the subconscious mind and the meaning of existence in the form of a detective - story parody. Ionesco's first three - act play, Amedee (1954; translated 1958), portrays the lonely, bitter life of a couple who share their apartment with a corpse, symbol of their dead love, which grows to gigantic proportions as the play progresses.

Although the compassionate satire and the fantastic atmosphere remain, with Tueur sans gages (1957; translated as The Killer, 1960) -- the first of four long plays to feature Berenger, a little Everyman who is also partly a projection of the author himself -- Ionesco's plays begin to employ a more explicit symbolic technique and a more straightforward plot line. Rhinoceros is an almost conventional allegory of the Nazi phenomenon, while Le Roi se meurt (1962; translated as Exit the King, 1963) touches on metaphysical questions associated with the approach of death. Subsequent works include Ce Formidable Bordel! (1973), Antidotes (1977), Un Homme en question (1979), and Themes et variations, ou Voyage chez les morts (1980).

Ionesco's writings about the theatre have been collected in Notes et contre - notes (1962; translated as Notes and Counter Notes, 1964). His Journal en miettes (1967 - 68) was partially translated in Fragments of a Journal (1968); Present passe passe present, a memoir that also appeared in 1968, was translated in 1971 as Present Past, Past Present. In 1970 Ionesco became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor; in 1971 he was elected to the venerable Academie francaise, and in 1985 he was awarded the T. S. Eliot Prize by the Ingersoll Foundation.