Ellmann’s Joyce: A Biography

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James Joyce by Richard Ellmann was described by Anthony Burgess as “the greatest literary biography of the twentieth century.” After making a case in support of this claim, I shall tell the story of the book’s creation. Among the topics to be discussed are how and why Ellmann became a biographer; how he chose Joyce as a subject; how he gained the cooperation of the Joyce estate and of Joyce’s family; how he collected Joyce’s papers (a matter of diplomacy, guile, doggedness and luck); how he conducted interviews and chose interviewees; how he placated publishers and thwarted competitors; how he determined the biography’s themes and structure, including the vexed problem of balancing narrative with literary analysis; and how and why he produced a second edition. The aim of the talk will be to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the way literary biographies are made, remind readers how much they can tell us about human behaviour and the creation of works of art, and make clear how gifted a writer and critic Ellmann was.

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Contact: Oxford Centre for Life-Writing

Email: admin.oclw@wolfson.ox.ac.uk