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James Joyce (Oxford Lives S) [Paperback]

by Richard Ellmann
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 20, 1983 0195033817 978-0195033816 Revised
Richard Ellmann has revised and expanded his definitive work on Joyce's life to include newly discovered primary material, including details of a failed love affair, a limerick about Samuel Beckett, a dream notebook, previously unknown letters, and much more.

Frequently Bought Together

James Joyce (Oxford Lives S) + Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses + Dubliners (Dover Thrift Editions)
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Editorial Reviews Review

Although several biographers have thrown themselves into the breach since this magisterial book first appeared in 1959, none have come close to matching the late Richard Ellmann's achievement. To be fair, Ellmann does have some distinct advantages. For starters, there's his deep mastery of the Irish milieu--demonstrated not only in this volume but in his books on Yeats and Wilde. He's also an admirable stylist himself--graceful, witty, and happily unintimidated by his brilliant subjects. But in addition, Ellmann seems to have an uncanny grasp on Joyce's personality: his reverence for the Irishman's literary accomplishment is always balanced by a kind of bemused affection for his faults. Whether Joyce is putting the finishing touches on Ulysses, falling down drunk in the streets of Trieste, or talking dirty to his future wife via the postal service, Ellmann's account always shows us a genius and a human being--a daunting enough task for a fiction writer, let alone the poor, fact-fettered biographer.


"The genius of Ellmann's James Joyce is its abundance of detail--its wealth of anecdotes and letters, recovered conversations, and poems. It's a pleasure to salute this masterly book as it marches past again."--Newsweek

Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Lives S
  • Paperback: 887 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; Revised edition (October 20, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195033817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195033816
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is impossible to praise this book too highly. January 22, 1999
I've just finished reading this masterful biography, and it has had the magical effect of making me forget all others. This is a simply splendid book -- a life of the greatest writer of the 20th Century that is so scrupulously detailed that one leaves it feeling you personally know and like the subject. Joyce is presented to us from all sides -- as friend, husband, father, drinker, raconteur and most importantly, writer; a man with unparalleled control of the English language and no control of life or money. One measure of the book's genius is that it makes you feel quite close to Joyce toward the end -- as he gets ever blinder and broker, his energy used up by a book he knows will go unread and a daughter who is slowly succumbing to mental illness.
I think of this book now almost as part of the Joyce canon. I'm not sure you can really know Joyce without knowing Ellmann's Joyce, too.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Irish Eyes Exile October 10, 2005
Richard Ellmann's biography is the most definitive and complete examination of James Joyce that has been written. This extensive work examines Joyce's life from his birth to his death. Ellmann's narrative derives from Joyce's letters as well as accounts from Joyce's brother, Stanislaus. The book is most revealing in offering an understanding of the process it took for Joyce to come up with his most monumental works, ULYSSES AND FINNEGANS WAKE. Ellmann states that Joyce intentionally made it difficult for anyone to understand what he wrote. He wanted to keep his critics, academics and scholars, guessing of what significance his nonsensical gibberish creation represented. In addition, Ellmann intertwines events that occurred in Joyce's life that show how they closely resemble the characters in the works he produced, such as his early work, A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN.

James Joyce most likely can be considered a "starving artist." He would go without a new pair of shoes until they wore down to the soles, but looked debonair and sophisticated with non-matching suits. In the beginning, he aspired to be a work within the realms of Jesuit studies, but later opted for a writing career that would take him from Trieste, Paris, and Zurich. Joyce struggled with poverty through out his life even as his most famous works were published. Monetary problems and health conditions that affected his eyesight never hindered his creative process. If he lost his eyesight, he probably would have continued to write blind. Joyce appeared to be an eccentric and stubborn man. However, Ellmann shows a caring and supporting man who loved his wife and children, and most of all, his father, John Stanislaus Joyce.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No one gets it like Richard Ellman April 4, 2000
Richard Ellman was this nation's foremost Joyce scholar for almost three decades, and his great, vast biography is perhaps the best ever written of a literary figure. This book is a wonderful fusion of Ellman's unique critical vision and rigorous biographical technique. Beyond his obviously deep understanding of the subject, Ellman writes in an engaging, eloquent prose that kept me interested for the 750-page sprawl of the book. Going in, I was a vague admirer of Joyce's work; coming out, I felt ready to go forth to encounter for the millionth time the farthest reaches of his fiction.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful biography of the enigmatic James Joyce. July 10, 2000
Don't let the size of the book (including 67 pages of footnotes) daunt you; this is a beautifully written account of one of the most enigmatic figures in literature that combines precise scholarship with a straightforward narrative style into a model for the biographic form. Scholars of Joyce have undoubtedly read and re-read this book; however, for those readers who are just now approaching Joyce, or for those readers who have been frightened by the prospect, this biography will make the introduction painless as well as pleasant. Ellmann's biography treats every aspect of Joyce's life including family, friends, and the creative processs that resulted in his masterpieces. As Ellmann remarks in his preface: "In working over these pages, I have felt all my affection for him [Joyce] renewed." The reader of this judicious work will close the final page with this same sentiment.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best biography in English language in 20th century June 19, 2006
Richard Ellmann's biography of James Joyce is hands down among the three best or the best biography written in the 20th century. For anyone with a serious interest in Joyce or his writings, will truly enjoy getting to know Joyce and his writings through this book.

I've read maybe a few thousand reviews of other titles on this website but this is the first book I've felt I needed to comment on. I comment mainly because I noted that two reviewers gave this book "4 stars". What unmitigated gall!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Biography October 4, 2006
In all things about James Joyce, no one has exhibited more of an acute understanding of the man and his works than Richard Ellmann. He is the bridge by which readers who have not read Joyce or do not understand what they have read by him to the inner workings of the artist and his life.

This biography, "James Joyce" has been around for decades, virtually unchallenged. He presents to the reader all the facets of Joyce's life and personality. This is no mere star-gazing. Along with all the great things about Joyce, he also examines his weakness: his superstitions, his drinking, his occasional selfishnes, his sexual complexities, and his failure to really take care of his family. We get to see Joyce in all his dimensions and from several perspectives. That makes this book not only the best biography of James Joyce but one of the classic biographies of all time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Agenbite of Onwit
What can be added to the list of superlatives? Only this: Ellman compels readers into Joyce's constellation of influences while providing the definitive view of the construction... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Michael K. Bryant
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Biography Ever Written
In The Observer, Anthony Burgess called Ellmann's 1959 biography of James Joyce "the greatest literary biography of the century. Read more
Published 17 months ago by SalParadise
4.0 out of 5 stars very good insight into genius
biographies are a bit boring but joyce was not, strange even after you read every day of his life competently reported you can still not understand how he came up with ulysses.
Published 17 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Bio, but makes you dislike Joyce
Joyce is a hard man to love.

Many times I put this down and did not want to pick it up. Joyce sickens my soul in this bio, but calms my soul when I read him. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Ryan P. Sullivan
5.0 out of 5 stars The book by book development of James Joyce
Ellmann in detailing the life of Joyce also details carefully and gives a real explanation of the whole process of his writing life. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Shalom Freedman
5.0 out of 5 stars James Joyce comes alive
Biographies frequently fail to convey the personality of their subject but not this one. James Joyce jumps off the page in all his vainglorious, self-centered, generous, mooching,... Read more
Published on April 25, 2009 by Randall L. Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest book on Joyce's life and writings
This ia a "must-have" book for any Joyce lover. The book goes into every relevant detail of Joyce's life and to my taste is written in an incredibly vivid style. Read more
Published on February 7, 2009 by Pavel Ryjakov
5.0 out of 5 stars Groovy chronicle of an eccentric and groovy cat
Puts all of his work into a far more enlightening context. When most scholars are reading Joyce for the interplay of signs and signifiers and deeper questions about what can and... Read more
Published on January 27, 2009 by T. Moe
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Extraordinary
I just cannot praise this book enough. Ellman's biography of Joyce is amazing, bewildering, daunting (at least in its length) and wonderful -- not coincidently, just like James... Read more
Published on January 22, 2008 by SBO
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
For those of you interested in a biography of James Joyce that's as erudite as his works themselves, then Ellmann's "James Joyce" is most definitely for you. Read more
Published on February 12, 2007 by Pangloss
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