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