Clipping from the Freeman's Journal announcing a 1904 concert featuring James Joyce James Joyce: Music in the Novels and Poems

James Joyce Quote
You have a very pure tenor, to my way of thinking, and I loved your accompanist, Mr. Richey, who also did extremely well.
James Joyce Unquote

[ Richard Ellmann ]

Their Exagmination Round Our Factification for Incamination of Music from the Works of James Joyce

::  Jolas  ::  Jordan  ::  Bowen  ::  Connolly  ::  Pearce  ::  Ellmann  ::

From Joyce's biographer

Among serious Joyceans, the name Richard Ellmann needs no introduction. In 1998 Ulysses took the top spot in the Random House/Modern Library 100 Best Novels list; so it is only fitting that Ellmann's monumental biography of the 20th century's greatest author should also have been included in the parallel list of 100 Best Nonfiction books (#73). He was not only a scholar of the first rank, but also a man of unassuming grace and courtesy, as his comments to Mr. McDermott illustrate:

Click to enlarge

Signature of Richard Ellmann

A Note from Richard Ellmann

Thank you very much for sending me your record, 'Music from the Works of James Joyce'. I was very pleased to listen to it, and particularly liked the four romantic songs. You have a very pure tenor, to my way of thinking, and I loved your accompanist, Mr. Richey, who also did extremely well.

Presumably the "four romantic songs" to which he refers are:

About Richard Ellmann

Cover of Richard Ellman's James Joyce

Ellmann's James Joyce —
the 1982 edition

(New York: Oxford Univ. Press)

Stuart Gilbert pronounced it "definitive." Anthony Burgess called it "the greatest literary biography of the century." John Hutchens declared in the N.Y. Herald Tribune that it was "written with such skill and warmth that the whole is itself a work of art."

Such was the acclaim that greeted the publication of Richard Ellmann's biography of James Joyce in 1959. The 1982 revision adds substantially to the material contained in the first edition and virtually assures that this monumental volume will continue for decades to come to hold a place of honor on the bookshelves of Joyce's admirers. Yet as if this were not enough to secure enduring literary fame, he was an expert on W.B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde as well, two other Irish men of letters and giants in their own right.

Born March 15, 1918, in Highland Park, Michigan, Richard Ellmann earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Yale University. He served in the U.S. Navy and Office of Strategic Services during World War II. In 1945, while on military leave, he traveled to Dublin and there become intrigued with the works of the aforementioned Irish authors.

His first important book, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (1948, corrected edition published in 1979), is a penetrating reconstruction of the intellectual growth of the poet. Toward the end of his life, Ellmann completed work on his long-awaited study of Oscar Wilde (New York: Knopf, 1987), which won a Pulitzer Prize and is widely considered the definitive biography of Wilde. Between those antipodes of accomplishment, Ellmann's career was one distinguished by lifelong learning, teaching, and scholarship. At various times he was a professor or fellow at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Northwestern, Indiana, and Emory Universities, as well as the University of Chicago; and the publications he wrote or edited include much important and insightful work on 20th-century literature:

  • The Identity of Yeats (1954, 2nd edition published in 1964)
  • My Brother's Keeper, by Stanislaus Joyce (1958, ed.)
  • The Critical Writings of James Joyce (1959, ed. with Ellsworth Mason)
  • The Modern Tradition (1965, ed. with Charles Feidelson, Jr.)
  • Letters of James Joyce, Vols. 2 and 3 (ed.)
  • Eminent Domain: Yeats Among Wilde, Joyce, Pound, Eliot and Auden (1967)
  • Giacomo Joyce (1968, ed.)
  • Oscar Wilde: A Collection of Critical Essays (1969, ed.)
  • Ulysses on the Liffey (1972, reissued with corrections in 1984)
  • Golden Codgers [essays on Shaw, Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce] (1973)
  • Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973, ed. with Robert O'Clair)
  • Selected Letters of James Joyce (1975, ed.)
  • Modern Poems: An Introduction to Poetry (1976, ed. with Robert O'Clair)
  • New Oxford Book of American Verse (1976, ed.)
  • The Consciousness of Joyce (1977)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other Writings (1982, ed.)
  • Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett (1986)

It is, of course, the Joyce biography that garners the most attention — at least among Joyceans. Wonderful as it is, like all human endeavors, it has its share of imperfections. Jorn Barger (Robot Wisdom) has identified a number of factual errors in the book that are probably worth penciling into the margins of one's copy. However, he also suggests that Ellmann's biography unfairly denigrates Joyce. To take that position does not itself seem entirely fair. True, Ellmann may occasionally assume a "disrespectful" tone in his assessment of certain of Joyce's behaviors and foibles. Yet biographers, like spouses, should be granted a certain degree of latitude in how they treat their subjects (or mates) in public. All men, especially the most outsized, sometimes need to be brought down a peg or two to return them to a human dimension. Without his Alice, Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden would be utterly intolerable. In his own defense in this regard, Ellmann writes in the Preface to the revised edition:

I have followed Joyce's own prescription of total candor, with the knowledge that his life, like Rousseau's, can bear others' scrutiny as it bore his own. In working over these pages, I have felt all my affection for him renewed.

His use of the word "affection" in this context does not connote the mindset of someone inclined to denigrate his subject — only to elucidate it with humor and honesty.

Ellmann died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) in Oxford, England, on May 13, 1987, at the age of 72. His papers, consisting of a wide variety of research and personal materials (correspondence, photographs, sound recordings, manuscripts, and galley proofs), were gathered together from his rooms at Oxford, his home in London, and the library at Emory University; the trove now resides among the Special Collections of McFarlin Library at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Omnium Gatherum: Essays for Richard Ellmann (Susan Dick, Declan Kiberd, Dougald McMillan, and Joseph Ronsley, eds., Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1989), published after his death, is a commemorative Festschrift with articles from over 40 authors on Ellmann's many achievements and the 20th-century literature to which he devoted his career. Contributors include Fritz Senn and John Kelleher.

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