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Biography of Eugene Ionesco

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

A Dig Deeper Article by Production Dramaturg Kian Moradi.

Eugène Ionesco in June 1966, Photo-Jack Metzger, Comet Photo AG (Zürich).

When considering the Theatre of the Absurd, there are four names who rise above the rest: Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Jean Genet, and Eugene Ionesco.

Ionesco (1909-1994) was born in Romania but taken to France when he was an infant. As a result of this migration, he became proficient in French, leading to his later writing many notable playscripts in French, such as Rhinoceros, The New Tenants, and The Bald Soprano, among others.

In 1917, Ionesco’s father moved back to Romania to fight in World War I. The absence of his father in the war, along with Eugene Ionesco’s disease, anemia, caused him and his family to have a difficult time in France. Speaking of his nationality he says: “My country, for my part, was France, simply I lived there with my mother when I was a child during my first year in school and because my country could be no other country than the one in which my mother lived. My father wanted me to become a bourgeois, a magistrate, a soldier, a chemical engineer […] Everything that represented authority seemed to me, and is, unjust.”

Throughout the 1930’s, Ionesco continued his education in Romania, where he published many literary and critical essays. He also taught himself English. Since Ionesco lived in the century of isms, he dealt with many literary schools. Accordingly, he believed:

“The aim of realism and naturalism was also to extend the realms of reality or reveal new and still unknown aspects of it. Symbolism and later surrealism were further attempts to reveal and express hidden realities. The question then is simply for an author to discover truths and to state them. And the manner of stating them is naturally unfamiliar for this statement itself is the truth for him. He can only speak it for himself. It is by speaking it for himself that he speaks it for others. Not the other way around.”

Rhinoceros was produced first in Düsseldorf in 1959. While this drama can be viewed as political, Ionesco avoids “standing on a soapbox to proclaim any specific political dogma.” Ionesco’s concern was displaying a world in which meanings have been spoiled. In his time, there were many hollow and biased institutions toward which people had become sympathetic.

Suggested Reading:

Ionesco, Eugène. Present Past, Past Present: A Personal Memoir. Grove Press, 1971.

Ionesco, Eugène. Notes and Counter Notes: Writings on the Theatre. Grove Press, 1964.

Lange, Pavlin. “Eugène Ionesco.” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2021.

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