IONESCO, EUGÈNE (1912–1994), Romanian-born French playwright. Ionesco's mother, Thérèse Icard, was a French Jewess who, while teaching in Romania, married a non-Jewish lawyer, Eugène Ionesco. In 1913 the family moved to Paris, returning to Romania in 1925, and a few years later the father abandoned his wife and two children. The young Eugène specialized in French studies. He became a teacher and literary critic, studying in Paris (1938–40). When he returned to Romania he encountered the Fascism which he was later to attack in the bitterest terms, and in 1942 he fled back to France with his wife.
Ionesco's first two books, written in Romanian and published in 1934, were a volume of lyrical poems, Elegii pentru fiinṭele mici ("Elegies for Little Souls"), and Nu ("No"), a collection of essays criticizing established Romanian authors. Ionesco's plays, which reveal the influence of *Kafka and of the important Romanian dramatist Ion Luca Caragiale, are mostly one-act caricatures of middle-class smugness and philistinism. A mixture of comedy and tragedy, surrealistic and grotesque, they attack what Ionesco terms "the universal petty bourgeoisie … the personification of accepted ideas and slogans, the ubiquitous conformist." This "Theater of the Absurd" (Ionesco himself preferred the designation "Theater of Derision") had its birth in the highly successful play La Cantatrice chauve (1949; The Bald Soprano, 1958). The best known of the many plays that helped to consolidate Ionesco's reputation were La Lỵçon (1950; The Lesson, 1958), Les Chaises (1951; The Chairs, 1958), Victimes du devoir (1952; Victims of Duty, 1958), Le Nouveau Locataire (1953; The New Tenant, 1958), Tueur sans gages (1957; The Killer, 1960), Rhinoceros (1959), which appeared in an English translation in 1960, and Le Roi se meurt (1962; Exit the King, 1963). Ionesco's plays were collected in four volumes (1954–66) and have been translated into nearly 30 languages. A series of essays appeared in book form as Notes et Contrenotes (1962; Notes and Counternotes, 1964), and he also wrote the scripts for several distinguished films. Later plays included Macbeth (1973), Man with Bags (1975), and Journey Among the Dead (1980).
He visited Israel and made declarations in favor of the state on the eve of the Six-Day War. After it was over he wrote about his family history for the first time in the second volume of his memoirs, Présent Passé, Passé Présent (1968), a sequel to Le Journal en Miettes (1957, Fragments of a Journal, 1968), expressing a new awareness of his Jewish origin. Ionesco, whose qualities of wit and mordant satire had led to his being referred to as "the Molière of the Twentieth Century," was elected to the French Academy in 1970.
R.N. Coe, Ionesco (Eng., 1961); P. Sénart, Ionesco (Fr., 1964); F. Bradesco, Le monde étrange de Ionesco (1967); C. Bonnefoy, Entretiens avec Eugène Ionesco (1966); Ben-Jacob, in: American Zionist, 59:3 (1968), 19–21; Le Figaro Littéraire (July 29, Aug. 5, 12, 1968); Davidowitz, in: Ariel, 4 (1963), 18–21. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R.J. North, Eugene Ionesco: an inaugural lecture delivered at the University of Birmingham (1970); R. Hayman, Eugene Ionesco (1972); R.N. Coe, Ionesco: A Study of His Plays (1971); A. Lewis, Ionesco (1972); R. Lamont (ed.), Ionesco: A Collection of Critical Essays (1973); E. Kern, The Works of Ionesco (1974); S. Cavarra, Ionesco: de l'absurde à la quète