Vian and Eugene Ionesco : LUSENET : Boris Vian : One Thread

Well, if the Vian/Sartre question is somewhat problematic, this one will probably be a doozie, since I've seen precious little on it. Alfred Cismaru's '74 book on Vian suggests two things about The Empire Builders which I've never been able to find anything else on: One, that it was originally a short story or novella never completed--if anyone knows about that, I'd love to find out and if it's published in some book of Vian's errata I'd love it even more; and Two, that the play was written as some sort of competition or something with Eugene Ionesco. The thing I find so interesting about the latter comcept is that concerns the entire idea of the so-called "Theater of the Absurd." Martin Esslin never really points out in his pioneering book on that subject an interesting problem the absurdists faced. Namely, that their dramatic form was not well suited for full-length plays. Ionesco, Genet, and Adamov, three of the first absurdists started with one-act plays. Only Sam Beckett started with full length plays (Waiting for Godot) and cut it down to his very short dramaticules by the 1970's. And when Ionesco, the other well known absurdist, started writing full length plays with The Killer in 1959, (the "Berenger" plays because of the title character) followed by "Rhinoceros" in about 1960 and "Exit the King" in the mid-60's, he followed a formula--the main character, Berenger, by turns a hypocrite or a sort of pathetic saint, starts out in a large social situation like a small town (The Killer and Rhinoceros) or a royal court, which is then destroyed from an outside influence, like the Killer or the transformation into rhinceroses. Eventually, Berenger is left all alone, and the end of the play is a long monologue in which he addresses the threatening influence. The interesting thing is that this is, in essence, the same structure as The Empire Builders--the Father loses all of the family and faces off with Schmurz alone at the end, and like in The Killer, his hypcritical or blind or weak bourgeois morality is no match for the terrifying force of what faces him. However, The Empire Builders was at best produced at the same time as The Killer, or it predated it. It would be interesting to know if it was Vian, whose play was lambasted as a cheap rip-off of Ionesco or Beckett when it debuted, actually influenced Ionesco in writing some of his msot famous plays. I know of course that they were friends through the College de Pataphysique, but little else.

-- Jeremy Barker (, September 06, 2003


Hi Jeremy,

I just re-read LES BATISSEURS D'EMPIRE, and I can tell you that the play was performed for the first time in December of 1959, which would have been a year or two after Vian's death. There are some extracts from drama critics at the back of the book which are an interesting read. Several of the critics draw comparisons between Vian and Ionesco, Vian and Beckett, Vian and Adamov. If you speak/read French, look for an edition of the play published by L'Arche Editeur in 1959. If not, try looking online for critiques of the first performance--it was performed at Theatre Recamier in Paris by a company called Theatre National Populaire, under the direction of Jean Vilar.

I personally find a lot of similarities in style between the playwrighting work of Ionesco and Vian, particularly in how both writers use language, cliches, wordplay, etc. Humor as well, although Ionesco's humor is less dark.

Happy researching!


-- Audra Lord (, July 01, 2004.

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