John Pistelli's Reviews > James Joyce

James Joyce by Richard Ellmann
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bookshelves: biography, literary-criticism-theory, nonfiction, twentieth-century

It ran a bit long for Goodreads, but you can see my review of this famous biography over at my main site, where it serves as my annual Bloomsday post for 2019. It begins:
Biography must be the most traditional, even rigid, of the prose genres, exceeding murder mysteries or romance novels. It marches from birth to death (or from family history to cultural legacy) at the stately pace of the old three-volume Victorian novel and with the regularity of the sonnet or the villanelle. While the genre does present its writers the chance to attain virtuosity within a pre-given form, it can be an odd fit when it takes as its subject an experimental novelist like James Joyce, who said when writing Finnegans Wake, “I might easily have written this story in the traditional manner. Every novelist knows the recipe.” It’s all the odder given that Joyce used his own life as his material from the beginning to the end of his career and so might be said to have already written his own biography in the cipher of his ingenious fictions. Doesn’t the biographer run the risk—to borrow from Kierkegaard—of turning wine into water?
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 16, 2019 – Shelved as: biography
June 16, 2019 – Shelved
June 16, 2019 – Shelved as: literary-criticism-theory
June 16, 2019 – Shelved as: nonfiction
June 16, 2019 – Shelved as: twentieth-century

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