Richard Ellmann (March 15 1918 – May 13 1987) was a prominent
American literary critic and
biographer of Irish writers such
as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats.
for which he won the National Book
in 1960, is considered one of the most acclaimed 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
. A liberal humanist, Ellmann's academic work generally
focused on the major modernist writers of the twentieth
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.
served in the United States Navy
. 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unpublished manuscripts to write a critical examination of the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 still 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."
used his knowledge of the Irish milieu to
bring together four literary luminaries in Four Dubliners:
Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett, a collection of essays first
delivered at the Library of Congress.
Goldsmiths' professor of English literature at Oxford
then Professor Emeritus, and a
fellow at New College,
died in Oxford, aged
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.
his collected papers, artifacts, and ephemera were acquired by the
Tulsa's McFarlin Library, Department of Special
Collections and University Archives. Other manuscripts are
housed in the Northwestern University's Library special collections
- Yeats: The Man And The Masks (1948; revised edition in
- James Joyce
(1959; revised edition in 1982)
- Oscar Wilde (1987)
- Ulysses on the Liffey
- Oscar Wilde
- Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett