Richard Ellmann

Richard Ellmann (March 15 1918May 13 1987) was a prominent American/British literary critic and biographer of Irish writers such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats. Ellmann's "James Joyce" (1959), for which he won the National Book Award in 1960, is considered one of the better literary biographies of the 20th century and the 1982 revised edition of the work was similarly recognised with the award of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.


Ellmann was born at Highland Park, Michigan, the second of the three sons (there were no daughters) of James Isaac Ellmann, lawyer, a Jewish Romanian immigrant, and his wife, Jeanette Barsook, an immigrant from Kiev. He studied at Yale University, where he later taught, and where with Charles Feidelson, Jr., he edited the extraordinarily important anthology, "The Modern Tradition". He earlier taught at Northwestern, and later at Oxford, before serving (for a considerable stipend) as Emory University's Robert W. Woodruff Professor from 1980 till his death.

In "Yeats: The Man and the Masks", Ellmann drew on conversations with George Yeats along with thousands of pages of unpublished manuscripts to write a critical examination of the poet's life. His Pulitzer Prize winning (1989) biography "Oscar Wilde" is standard. Capturing the warmhearted and generous spirit of the legendary wit, he examines Wilde's ascent to literary prominence and his public downfall. The book was the basis for the 1997 movie "Wilde", directed by Brian Gilbert.

Ellmann is perhaps most well known for his literary biography of James Joyce, a revealing account of the life of one of the 20th century's most influential literary figures. Anthony Burgess called "James Joyce" "the greatest literary biography of the century."

Ellmann used his knowledge of the Irish milieu to bring together four literary luminaries in "Four Dubliners": Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, a collection of essays first delivered at the Library of Congress.

He was Goldsmiths' professor of English literature at Oxford University, 1970-1984, then Professor Emeritus, and a fellow at New College, Oxford, 1970-1987.

Ellmann died in Oxford, aged 69. His wife, Mary (c. 1921 - 1989), whom he married in 1949, was an essayist. The couple had three children: Stephen (b. 1951), Maud (b. 1954), and Lucy (b. 1956), the first two being academics and the third a novelist and writing teacher.

Many of his collected papers, artifacts, and ephemera were acquired by the University of Tulsa's McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Other manuscripts are housed in the Northwestern University's Library special collections department.

Major works

*"Yeats: The Man And The Masks" (1948; revised edition in 1979)
*"James Joyce" (1959; revised edition in 1982)
*"Oscar Wilde" (1987)
*"Ulysses on the Liffey


* Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

External links

* [ University of Tulsa McFarlin Library's inventory of the Richard Ellmann collection housed in their special collections department.]
* [ Richard Ellmann Papers, Northwestern University Archives, Evanston, Illinois]

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