As a child, Eugene Ionesco was captivated by the Punch and Judy puppet show at the Luxembourg Gardens. He would sometimes spend whole days there "stupefied, through the sight of these puppets that talked, moved, clubbed each other. It was a spectacle of the world itself ... [which] presented itself to me in an infinitely simplified and caricatured form, as if to underline its grotesque and brutal truth." These early experiences would have a profound effect on the playwright's later writings, and some critics have suggested that the style of Ionesco's plays can be traced back to these puppet shows.
From 1928 to 1933, Eugene Ionesco studied French Literature at the University of Bucharest. It was during this period that he wrote his first poems, elegies inspired by the works of Maurice Maeterlinck and Francis Jammes. He also took up literary criticism, at one point publishing two conflicting essays on the merits/shortcomings of three popular Rumanian writers to show that it was possible to simultaneously hold opposite views on the same subject. After finishing his studies, Ionesco took a job teaching French.
On July 8, 1936, Eugene Ionesco married Rodica Burileanu, a student of law and philosophy. The couple would remain married for 58 years, until Ionesco's death in 1994. They had one daughter, Marie-France (born 1944), for whom Ionesco wrote several unconventional children's stories.
Along with such writers as Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov, Eugene Ionesco helped to found the Theatre of the Absurd, a movement which depicts life as a more-or-less hopeless struggle to make meaning out of a meaningless existence.
In the summer of 1958, Kenneth Tynan, the dramatic critic for the London Observer, launched an attack against Eugene Ionesco and his "anti-theatre." A self-appointed protector of realism in the theatre, Tynan warned his readers that Ionesco might become the "messiah" of the enemies of realism. Although he admitted that Ionesco presented a valid personal vision, Tynan reprimanded him for his recurring thesis that words were meaningless and communication between human beings was impossible. He cautioned that, were Ionesco's comedies to be emulated by other writers, the theatre would be headed towards a very bleak future. The debate that followed ranks among the most interesting discussions of realism versus anti-realism ever conducted. Ionesco himself responded that he did not believe communication between human beings was impossible -- only that it was difficult. He insisted that his effort to break down the language of society, which was after all "nothing but clichés, empty formulas, and slogans" was actually an attempt to improve the lines of communication, to re-examine the "congealed language," to split it apart in order to uncover the "living sap beneath." Other writers and critics joined the fray, some coming to Ionesco's defense, others siding with Tynan. Although no winner could be declared in such a debate, the controversy proved that Ionesco was not, as he had so often been characterized, merely the author of hilarious nonsense plays, but rather a serious artist consciously exploring the depths of the human condition.
Bérenger, Eugene Ionesco's recurring Everyman character, first appeared in The Killer (1958) in which he comes face to face with a serial killer who terrorizes an otherwise perfect city simply because he can. Bérenger would later reappear in Rhinoceros (1959), Exit the King (1962), and A Stroll in the Air (1963).
Shortly after the production of his first play (The Bald Soprano), Eugene Ionesco agreed to act in a stage adaptation of Dostoevsky's novel The Possessed by Nicolas Bataille and Akakia Viala. He played the role of Stepan Trofimovich. Initially, Ionesco was uncomfortable in the role, because he actually had the impression of being "possessed" or "dispossessed", of losing himself, of renouncing his own personality in favor of the character's. Eventually, however, he came to believe that by losing himself in the character of Stepan Trofimovich, he had actually found himself in a new sense. In other words, by understanding another human being, he came to a better understanding himself.
In Jack, or The Submission (1955), the protagonist (Jack) is encouraged by his family to marry Roberta, a girl with two noses and the only daughter of the Robert family. But Jack is rebellious and insists that two noses is not enough -- he must have a wife with at least three noses. Undeterred, the Robert family produces Roberta II, a second only daughter who has three noses. Jack still resists, but is eventually won over when Roberta II tells him about a dream she had in which little guinea pigs grow out of their mother at the bottom of a bathtub.
Eugene Ionesco's last play, Journeys Among the Dead (1981), combined autobiographical material with the hallucinatory quality of his early works. Apart from a libretto for an opera that was never produced, Ionesco abandoned writing after this and devoted himself instead to painting and lithography. He died in Paris on March 28, 1994, at the age of 84.