Richard Ellmann

gigatos | February 2, 2022


Richard Ellmann (Highland Park, March 15, 1918 – Oxford, May 13, 1987) was an American literary critic and biographer. He was a specialist in biographies of Irish writers such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats. In particular, his biography of James Joyce (1959), which won him the National Book Award the following year, is considered one of the best biographies of the twentieth century, and – in its revised 1982 version – was further awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His biography of Oscar Wilde earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and Autobiography in 1989.

He was born – second of three boys – from James Isaac Ellmann, a Jewish-Romanian lawyer immigrated to the USA, and his wife, Jeanette Barsook, who also moved from Kiev. He studied at Yale University (where he later became a professor), where, with Charles Feidelson, Jr., he published the anthology of great importance The Modern Tradition.

He first taught at Northwestern, and then at Oxford, before taking up a post (for a rich salary) as Robert W. Woodruff Professor at Emory University (in Georgia), a post he held from 1980 until his death.

He passed away at the age of 69. His wife Mary (1921 ? – 1989) was an essayist. They married in 1949. They had three children: Stephen, Lucy (born 1956) and Maud (born 1954). The latter are a novelist and a university professor, respectively.

In Yeats: The Man and the Masks, Ellmann drew on his conversations with George Yeats and thousands of pages of unpublished manuscripts to compile a critical examination of the poet”s life.

His biography Oscar Wilde – 1989 Pulitzer Prize – is universally judged to be a landmark. Capturing the generous and sympathetic spirit of that legendary genius, it examines Wilde”s rise to literary excellence and the collapse of his public image. The 1997 film Wilde, directed by Brian Gilbert, was based on this book.

Despite these already brilliant intellectual accomplishments, Ellmann is probably best known for his masterful literary biography of James Joyce, a particularly instructive account of the life of one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century literature.Anthony Burgess called this text “the greatest literary biography of the century.”

Ellmann uses his consummate knowledge of the Irish milieu to bring together four literary luminaries in Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, a collection of essays initially donated to the Library of Congress.

He was Goldsmiths” professor of English literature at Oxford University from 1970 to 1984, then Professor Emeritus and a member of New College, Oxford between 1970 and 1987.

Many papers and objects collected by Ellmann were acquired by the University of Tulsa . Other manuscripts are housed at Northwestern University, Special Collections Library Department.


  1. Richard Ellmann
  2. Richard Ellmann
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