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Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and…

Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett (edition 1988)

by Richard Ellman (Author)

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Examines the lives and careers of four distinguished Irish authors and analyzes the connections among them.
Title:Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett
Authors:Richard Ellman (Author)
Info:Abacus (1988), Edition: New edition, 116 pages
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Four Dubliners by Richard Ellmann


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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 and outdated language ('commit suicide') but definitely worth reading for those interested in art and its creation, Irish literature and drama, European history 1850-1980.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 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 MacDonaugh (b. 1970)? ( )
  bibliothecarivs | Dec 13, 2020 |
Ellmann's book is a short one of 122 pages, counting index, and is taken from his four lectures on Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett given at the Library of Congress. The book is light, easy, and enjoyable reading and can be finished in four short sessions or in one afternoon or evening. Each of the four chapters assumes that the reader has some general familiarity with the man's life and work, but doesn't require expert knowledge.

As a consequence of the lectures being delivered with a gap of one year from one to the next, each chapter is independent of the others, until the last on Beckett, where Ellmann makes an effort to relate each author to the rest. The four men are very different in their styles and personal history, and most of their lives were spent in places other than Dublin, but relating them in one book makes some sense, albeit somewhat forced, because of their strong connections to Ireland and because some of them had met each other and been influenced by each other.

Ellmann's insight into the four men and ability to relate them and their work come from years of close study, including knowing some of the participants. Particularly telling are such references as, "Mrs. Yeats told me ...," and the like. He includes delightful references and jokes that limn character, such as Beckett's ironic take on Descartes, "I suffer, therefore I may be." ( )
  JohnPeterAltgeld | Jul 19, 2012 |
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