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James Joyce

4.32  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,811 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
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.
Paperback, 887 pages
Published October 20th 1983 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1959)
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Ulysses by James JoyceDubliners by James JoyceA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James JoyceJames Joyce by Richard EllmannBloomsday by David B. Lentz
James Joyce Reading List
4th out of 31 books — 28 voters
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National Book Award Winners
71st out of 103 books — 136 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 09, 2015 Kalliope rated it it was amazing

Of course Marcel Proust would have frown at my reading this. He would have been also irritated when I had read his Marcel Proust: A Life. He would have felt dismayed at the prospect of yet another reader who uses a biography as shaky clutches in the futile attempt to approach to a writer. He may have also felt troubled at anyone deluding oneself that one could approach his inner being – as if he had not tried to do that himself. At least Joyce would have not minded being the center of attention.
Lynne King
Dec 09, 2013 Lynne King rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies, own-book
Where does time go to? I read this years ago.

This book was just recommended to me and searching through the shelves I came across this very dusty book in my biographies' section.

If you want to know everything about Joyce then this is the ideal book for you but it is rather long at over 800 pages, 887 to be precise, including the index. I went through a "biography period" and I seemed to end up with tomes and not books.

There are some fabulous photos of Joyce, and his family, and a splendid one of
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
What important people are saying about Richard Ellmann’s biography of James Joyce.

“Ellmann, in his biography of James Joyce, accomplishes what I had set for myself to do in my Dreams 7.0 series but could only approximate. To wit -- to fictionalize the factual and factualize the fictional.” -- Bill W.”T.”V. Faulman

“Too long.” -- S. Bucket

“Too short!” -- Joseph Frank

“If you will pardon me but I do have some modicum of authority in this field. And I really only have this to say about Mr Ellmann’s b
Paul Bryant
James Joyce was the poster boy for the avant-garde no-compromise artist who never had a day job (a little bit of teaching once, couple of months in a bank once) and lived his whole life on handouts from his brother and a few rich American women. At the same time he lived a life of utter bourgeois conformity – no drugs, no affairs, no bizarre sex life. Oh, well, okay, he did have a very scatological, voyeuristic, underwear-fetishistic, masochistic fantasy life – good thing the internet wasn’t aro ...more
Aug 10, 2014 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Probably the best biography I have read, regardless of subject. Fluidly written and perfectly balanced between the analytical and the personal. And, more importantly, it tells us about one of the greatest artists our species has ever produced, one whose life deeply informed and influenced his Art.
Ronald Morton
Dec 16, 2015 Ronald Morton rated it it was amazing
This work should basically be considered essential reading for all lovers of Joyce. (of course, loving Joyce should also be considered essential) (so, really, this should simply be considered essential)

A moving and powerful work of biography – overflowing with detailed minutiae, abundant quotes (both from Joyce, about Joyce, and in correspondence to Joyce), and a warmth that brings Joyce and family to life – as well as a work of studied scholarship – as much of Joyce’s work was fed by his life a
Mar 08, 2015 Sue rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Sue by: Teresa Brader
In this truly fascinating biography, Richard Ellman presents the entirety of James Joyce: his family, both natal and his family with Nora; his rather strained relationship with Ireland coupled with a love affair of sorts with the city of Dublin; his varied relationships with contemporary writers in Europe; his love of the musical world; his many relocations throughout the continent; his love of language; and of course his writing. And there are sides I've left out.

While the history of the man is
ReemK10 (Paper Pills)
Here's the thing, I believe that Ellmann wrote the "Ellmann bio" of James Joyce for Richard Ellmann. It was written for academia. It was not written as a book to be read, but as a book to be studied.

Rating. I would give it 5 stars, just for the effort of compiling all these details, 4 stars for the clues provided, and 3 for the ability to keep turning the page. The usefulness of the Ellmann bio is its use as a key to understanding the man who wrote of, among others the longest day on record.

Ce Ce
Mar 09, 2015 Ce Ce rated it it was amazing

James formidable weaknesses...his towering strengths...his weaknesses mined to feed his strengths were uncovered in this exquisite archeological dig. I dreaded turning the last page of this thoroughly captivating portrait of Joyce…one that celebrated his work and achievement without lionizing him.

As Joyce matured I felt the sense of being present with James in the spirit and pace of Ellmann's telling. In fact I am certain I caught sight of J lounging on my sofa. At first a shimmering vapor. As
Jun 04, 2012 Alan rated it liked it
This is the literary biography that started the craze for long biographies, only recently broken by brave biographers, often themselves novelists, like Carol Shields' Jane Austen (Penguin). Arguably, Ellman's subject
and his research required a grand scale. This is not always--dare I say, often not--true. So our bookshelves are overladen with fat biographies of doubtful readability. Less true of Ellmann here.
Of course, I read this when I was a Teaching Assistant in a Joyce course, so I had an ad
Aug 18, 2008 matt rated it it was amazing
About a third of the way through this ALREADY and it's pretty damn spellbinding. Ellmann knows and admires Joyce's incredible skill, charming brio, and sheer analytical power.

And the fact that he drove his loved ones, companions, and pretty much all his contemporaries absolutely crazy doesn't escape him for a bit.

The Joyce I've been getting is someone worth reading about, even if he did not happen to be the greatest writer of the 20th Century (my bias notwithstanding).

I'm definitely going to ha
Max Nemtsov
Nov 17, 2013 Max Nemtsov rated it it was amazing
блистательная биография, довольно жалкая жизнь. читается как роман, и по ходу укрепляет во мнении, что Джойс - едва ли ролевая модель, конечно. но, как известно, жизнь художника и его творчество - вещи часто несовместные. с одной стороны, от того, что знаешь, откуда у него в романах что и кого с кого он писал, а кого с кем комбинировал, к пониманию результата вроде бы не приближаешься, а с другой тривия и детали все же придают текстам некую дополнительную глубину, потому что общий абрис автора в ...more
Aug 31, 2009 Dave rated it really liked it
Every writer should have biography in this same style as Bosworth's Life of Johnson. You never forget what year is being reviewed or how old the subject was at the time, because it is marked on every page. Straight to the point, like a clock with a transparent face, you see what material was the source of every bit of information, as the letter or anecdote or book is either copied right there or noted in the back. It is a fine example of a well-wriiten bio as well as a good picture of what the m ...more
Marta D'Agord
Mar 13, 2016 Marta D'Agord rated it it was amazing
Hearing with Audible the 37 hours of James Joyce's Biography written by Richard Ellmann made me open my eyes to the extraordinary life of Joyce, from a young man in Ireland to his adulthood in Trieste, Paris and Zurich. Using documents such as letters, the author shows the making of, the work in progress of the books Dubliners, The Portrait, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. Each book wasn't published as a whole before having its chapters shown in magazines. As a schoolboy in Ireland, James Joyce rea ...more
Dec 30, 2014 Jonfaith rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Previous training and hubris allowed me to waltz into the Joycean buzzsaw completely blind. That summer of 1994 I was recovering from knee surgery, catching a bad relationship in the solar plexus and discovering the World Cup. This tome was such a wellspring of delight during the hot, heady, and hobbled days of that summer.
Jul 22, 2015 AC rated it it was amazing
Will finish the final portion when (if) I ever get to FW
M. Milner
A detailed look at James Joyce's life that doesn't really try and hide some of his negative aspects, Richard Ellmann's biography is a blast, a book that's both drenched in detail and a compelling read. And it just may change your opinion on one of the best writers of the 20th century.

Most people know Joyce for writing a couple of really dense books, a handful of stories and a book that's almost intentionally unreadable. But there was a lot more to him than such an easy description: he was a tale
Dec 08, 2015 Andrea rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite biographies. I think you can get more about what Joyce thinks from the Ellmann biography than from some of Joyce's esoteric works. James Joyce was a brilliant lifelong student; he had mastered many languages and preferred to read foreign writers in their original language. His vocabulary in Ulysses was about 30,000 words. He read all the great writers and was able to refute their logic in multiple ways. He examined the works of all the major Catholic philosophers befor ...more
Billy McCoy
Nov 13, 2014 Billy McCoy rated it did not like it
Don't bother, a giant tomb and a definite yawner!
Rick Harsch
Oct 18, 2015 Rick Harsch rated it it was amazing
Known as the literary biography that all others aspire too I am grateful for it for proving to locals on the Slovene coast that Joyce's eye problems began on a drunk in Piran, Slovenia--Pirano at the time--back in 1910 when it was easy to hop a local train and travel into Istria for local wines. Joyce got drunk one night and slept on the marl stone, waking up with an eye infection that never properly healed and lead to his going blind. There is nothing in Piran to mark the event, so Joyce touris ...more
Jul 11, 2012 Steve rated it it was amazing
The best literary biography ever written (maybe the best biography, period).
Essential reading for anyone who care about modern literature and the nature of genius.
Jan 23, 2016 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Yes, it was great reading about the genesis of all his works and his eccentric nature and family life, but more than anything, I enjoyed reading of Joyce's take on his contemporaries and influences: his meeting with Proust, his thoughts on Ibsen and Hemingway, gaining Yeats's early blessing, and so much more.

Ellmann tucks nuggets away into footnotes that other writers could stretch into chapters, which attests to just how much he packed into these 744 pages. For instance, Faulkner did not read
Josh Luft
Jan 15, 2015 Josh Luft rated it really liked it
James Joyce is one of my favorites. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was, at a troublesome time in my late teens, integral in inspiring an epiphany regarding my own writing. Later, Ulysses shattered/rebuilt my perceptions of what literature could be. And Finnegans Wake, while so willfully abstruse and dense, was inspiring and intriguing once I surrendered myself to what it was/wasn't. His fiction is on another plain to me, which, along with the few bits of knowledge I had of him personall ...more
Drew Darby
Apr 23, 2014 Drew Darby rated it really liked it
An engaging book about a very interesting figure. The majority of the book, though quite long, is a fast-paced recounting of the events of Joyce's life which gives the reader a very real sense of the circumstances (historical, personal, psychological, etc.) out of which Joyce's works emerged.

The author does not provide much analysis, which is good and bad. It is good in this instance, because its absence gives the reader a feeling of an immediacy of observation as Joyce's life unfolds. It is not
J. Clayton Rogers
Mar 15, 2014 J. Clayton Rogers rated it it was amazing
Finally found the opportunity to finish Richard Ellmann's superb and very readable biography of James Joyce. Whatever you might think of Joyce's writing, the man himself was immensely interesting. I would add that he was an immensely attractive personality, but after what his wife Nora put up with…no, forget it—he was an immensely attractive personality. It’s hard not to like a man who comes up with the following days of the week after the death of his father: "Moansday, Tearsday, Wailsday, Thu ...more
Dawn Lennon
Apr 23, 2013 Dawn Lennon rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
This book was a very tough slog. I liked it because I discovered what I was looking for--insight into what drives a literary genius. Long ago I had studied James Joyce and even compared in my thesis one of his stories with one of Hemingway's, by looking a style and structure. But I had never read what was considered the definitive biography of him by Richard Ellmann.

This is a scholarly biography that captures all the people, places, and events of Joyce's life and explains how and where they appe
Apr 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Took forever to finish, but worth the read. Ellmann's biography is as much the story of Joyce the writer and literary giant as it is of Joyce the family-man and friend. He doesn't pull any punches: although Joyce was capable of great generosity, Ellmann doesn't obscure the selfish, arrogant prick that he often was.

I'd read this as a prelude to looking at Finnegans Wake again, but I don't think I'll bother. Ellmann so clearly elucidates Joyce's artistic process and his aims with his great Work in
Aug 03, 2014 Ned rated it it was amazing
Richard Ellmann's towering biography of Joyce sets the standard for modern literary biography. The most exquisite part of this lengthy exploration of Joyce's life and work is the level at which Ellmann is able to understand the personality and motivation of the highly elusive and complex writer. When I finished this book I felt that I could not only place Joyce in proper context but further appreciate the ethos in which the greatest writer of the 20th century crafted his works.
Dec 07, 2015 Ann rated it really liked it
My favorite Ellman quote on Joyce: "He was no saturnine artificer contriving devices, but one of life's celebrants, in bad circumstances cracking good jokes, foisting upon ennuis and miseries his comic vision." You should only read this if you already like Joyce because at 744 pages, it's gonna take awhile. But for someone who is already a fan, it's wonderful stuff.
Tracey Hook
Jan 30, 2016 Tracey Hook rated it it was amazing
Back in college, when I thought I knew everything there was to know about James Joyce, I took a class on his work and got a miserable grade. My best friend gave me a copy of this book, I guess to cheer me up. I'm still reading it over twenty years later! Maybe I could get a better grade in that class now.
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Richard David Ellmann was a prominent American literary critic and biographer of the Irish writers James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats. Ellmann's James Joyce (1959), for which he won the National Book Award 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 ...more
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