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Richard Ellmann (1918–1987)

Author of Oscar Wilde

48+ Works 6,906 Members 38 Reviews 1 Favorited

About the Author

Works by Richard Ellmann

Oscar Wilde (1987) — Author — 1,945 copies
James Joyce (1959) 1,302 copies
Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973) — Editor — 874 copies
Yeats: The Man and the Masks (1949) 382 copies
Ulysses on the Liffey (1972) 205 copies
The Critical Writings of James Joyce (1959) — Editor; Editor — 186 copies
Four Dubliners (1986) 149 copies
A Long The Riverrun (1988) 116 copies
Letters of James Joyce (1957) — Editor — 109 copies
The Identity of Yeats (1532) 85 copies
Wilde [1997 film] (1997) 72 copies
The Consciousness of Joyce (1776) 34 copies
Oscar Wilde: A Collection of Critical Essays (1969) — Editor; Contributor — 26 copies
And More Changes Still — Translator — 4 copies

Associated Works

Ulysses (1922) — Preface, some editions — 23,888 copies
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) — Editor, some editions — 21,059 copies
Dubliners (1914) — Editor, some editions — 19,524 copies
The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other Writings (1890) — Editor, some editions; Foreword, some editions — 2,466 copies
De Profundis (1905) — Preface, some editions — 1,625 copies
The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction (1983) — Contributor — 1,124 copies
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Viking Critical Library) (1914) — Contributor, some editions — 414 copies
My Brother's Keeper: James Joyce's Early Years (1958) — Editor — 195 copies
The Selected Letters of James Joyce (1957) — Editor — 186 copies
SF12 (1968) — Translator — 135 copies
Poems and Shorter Writings (1991) — Editor — 80 copies
James Joyce: A Collection of Critical Essays (1992) — Contributor — 19 copies
T.S. Eliot (Bloom's Major Poets) (1999) — Contributor — 12 copies
Letters of James Joyce, Volume 2 (1966) — Editor — 8 copies
James Joyce Letters, Volumes II And III (1966) — Editor — 6 copies
Oscar Wilde: Selected Writings (1961) — Introduction, some editions — 2 copies


1001 books (147) 20th century (1,211) 20th century literature (196) anthology (406) autobiography (154) biography (1,148) British (155) British literature (276) classic (1,243) classic literature (187) classics (1,438) Dublin (749) ebook (212) English (222) English literature (489) fiction (7,293) Folio Society (191) Ireland (2,113) Irish (1,681) Irish fiction (279) Irish literature (1,850) James Joyce (641) Joyce (742) Kindle (187) literary criticism (208) literary fiction (154) literature (2,399) modernism (926) non-fiction (417) novel (1,432) Oscar Wilde (154) own (312) owned (169) poetry (697) read (564) Roman (232) short stories (1,585) stream of consciousness (310) to-read (2,517) unread (482)

Common Knowledge



This may be the first literary biography I read.
mykl-s | 10 other reviews | Jun 17, 2023 |
freixas | 1 other review | Mar 31, 2023 |
Fascinating and readable critical analysis and synthesis. This book had its origins in lectures Ellmann gave at the Library of Congress in the early 1980s. The theme seems to be the way in which each writer dealt with contradictions in their lives and work. I knew the least about Beckett beforehand and consequently learned a lot about him. I knew the most about Yeats, but my favourite chapters were those on Wilde and Joyce. Contains some mature language (how could it not with these modernists?) and outdated language ('commit suicide') but definitely worth reading for those interested in art and its creation, Irish literature and drama, European history 1850-1980.

Strangely, the title has nothing to do with the analysis. The author spends no time on Dublin's effect on the writers and does talk about their time away from Ireland - Wilde at Oxford, Yeats in London and the south of France, Joyce and Beckett in Paris. A better title would have been 'Four Irishmen at Home and Abroad'.

If the book were extended after Wilde (b. 1854), Yeats (b. 1865), Joyce (b. 1882), and Beckett (b. 1906) to bring the literary tradition up to today, who might be included? Maybe Behan (b. 1923), Heaney (b. 1939), Patrick McCabe (b. 1955), and Martin MacDonagh (b. 1970)?
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bibliothecarivs | 2 other reviews | Dec 13, 2020 |
There are any number of things I disagree with in here, starting Ellmann's prima facie ludicrous belief that Joyce intended everything in Ulysses to lead towards one major philosophical statement:

"To those who lived meaninglessly in a brutal and consuming present, Joyce offered a world of accountability and did not shrink from calling it spiritual. To those who, nursed by locally distorted Catholic doctrines, spoke of spiritual realities as if they alone existed, he pointed to the realities of the body's life," (89).

If that's what Joyce was doing, then I'm fully behind it: he'd be doing negative dialectics decades before Adorno. But Ellmann's argument doesn't stop there. He connects the two terms here (materialism and spiritualism) with two other kind-of-sort-of relevant terms (objectivity and subjectivism), and two philosophers who are relevant, but not in the way that Ellmann seems to think (Aristotle and Hume) to make a grandiose metaphysical statement about how puns represent reality because reality is inevitably doubling and folding in on itself or something. He then claims that this is not mystical.

There's a lot going on there, but there are some pretty obvious points to make. First, Aristotle is not a materialist. In fact, Aristotle holds the very position that Ellmann sometimes attributes to Joyce, of 'form' interacting with matter. Aristotle believes in forms, he just doesn't believe that they can function if they transcend matter. Now, true, this puts him in opposition to Hume, but it also puts him in opposition to actual materialists.

Second, Ellmann goes through all of this without mentioning Kant--you know, the guy who made the problems of materialism vs idealism and scepticism vs dogmatism central to European philosophy. Now, Joyce may not have known Kant. But his not knowing Kant is a pretty good indication that he wasn't making the argument Ellmann attributes to him. Joyce was a knowledgeable guy. If he was making a Kantian argument, he would have known he was doing it.

Third, metaphysics of this kind is always mystical.

More important for most readers of Ulysses, however, is the way Ellmann traces Odyssean and Shakespearean tropes and themes through the book. He makes a number of excellent arguments about small moments (particularly interesting is his take on Bloom/Stephen looking into the mirror and seeing Shakespeare), and you don't have to buy the "Joyce solved all the world's intellectual problems" thing to get a lot out of the book.

So, he hasn't convinced me that Joyce had even one remotely coherent political thought (he might have read some anarchism, but was clearly enamored of the movement's destructive aspects--no institutions! no groups!--rather than its positive, communitarian aspects); nor has he convinced me that Ulysses' is a structural masterpiece. But he makes a strong, reasonable case, one that was worth making, and is well worth reading.
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stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |



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