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Diary

Ruth Dudley Edwards: The Biographer’s Dilemma

1 September 1988
... Brenda Maddox’s enjoyable biography of Nora Joyce left me worrying about two questions.* Did her subject warrant 526 pages? And was the great RichardEllmann, along with other scholars, guilty of gross invasion of privacy when he published James Joyce’s coprophiliac letters to Nora? Both these questions are of personal significance for me. Last year I ...
29 October 1987
Oscar Wilde 
by Richard Ellmann.
Hamish Hamilton, 632 pp., £15, October 1987, 0 241 12392 5
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... RichardEllmann’s Life of Joyce, generally regarded as the best literary biography of our time, was the work of his middle years. The last third of his own life was largely given to this biography of Wilde, which ...
20 September 1984
Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition 
by James Joyce, edited by Hans Walter Gabler, Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior.
Garland, 1919 pp., $200, May 1984, 0 8240 4375 8
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James Joyce 
by Richard Ellmann.
Oxford, 900 pp., £8.95, March 1984, 0 19 281465 6
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... delighted with this addition, since it solves the conundrum of a passage in the Circe chapter, 516/581, where Stephen says: ‘Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.’ RichardEllmann virtually solved it in Ulysses on the Liffey (1972) with his chapter called ‘The Riddle of Scylla and Charybdis’, which argues that ‘the answer to the sphinx’s riddle was man, the ...

Our Founder

John Bayley: Papa Joyce

19 February 1998
John Stanislaus Joyce: The Voluminous Life and Genius of James Joyce’s Father 
by John Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello.
Fourth Estate, 493 pp., £20, October 1997, 1 85702 417 6
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... of voices in the parlour of the grandest house they had once lived in – 23 Castlewood Avenue, off Belgrave Square, Rathmines – or in the back kitchen of some much more modest establishment. As RichardEllmann emphasised in his biography, Joyce employed his father till the very end, requiring the particulars of the ‘Star of the Sea’ church when Pappie was at death’s door. In his last ...
20 November 1980
Joyce’s Politics 
by Dominic Manganiello.
Routledge, 260 pp., £12.50, October 1980, 0 7100 0537 7
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... would pass by them calmly waiting for a sudden call to his sin-loving soul from their soft perfumed flesh.’ It was a large element in Joyce’s art thus to blend Defoe and Blake. (See page 329 of Ellmann’s incomparable if, one must always watch for it, slightly uncritical biography.) It was the way, too, of another Irish poet whom Joyce could respect, James Clarence Mangan, ‘taking into the vital ...

Outside Swan and Edgar’s

Matthew Sweet: The life of Oscar Wilde

5 February 1998
The Wilde Album 
by Merlin Holland.
Fourth Estate, 192 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 1 85702 782 5
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Cosmopolitan Criticism: Oscar Wilde’s Philosophy of Art 
by Julia Prewitt Brown.
Virginia, 157 pp., $30, September 1997, 9780813917283
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The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde 
edited by Peter Raby.
Cambridge, 307 pp., £37.50, October 1997, 9780521474719
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Wilde The Novel 
by Stefan Rudnicki.
Orion, 215 pp., £5.99, October 1997, 0 7528 1160 6
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Oscar Wilde 
by Frank Harris.
Robinson, 358 pp., £7.99, October 1997, 1 85487 126 9
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Moab is my Washpot 
by Stephen Fry.
Hutchinson, 343 pp., £16.99, October 1997, 0 09 180161 3
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Nothing … except My Genius 
by Oscar Wilde.
Penguin, 82 pp., £2.99, October 1997, 0 14 043693 6
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... of significant errors through multiple versions of Wilde’s history. Holland takes us back to one of the most familiar scenes from the life of Wilde: the bad moment outside Swan and Edgar’s. RichardEllmann’s biography says that, as Wilde caught sight of ‘the painted boys on the pavement’ outside the department store, he was struck by an overwhelming sense of catastrophe. Holland traces ...

A Djinn speaks

Colm Tóibín: What about George Yeats?

20 February 2003
Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W.B. Yeats 
by Ann Saddlemyer.
Oxford, 808 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 19 811232 7
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... In 1979, in a preface to a new edition of Yeats: The Man and the Masks, RichardEllmann wrote about 46 Palmerston Road in Rathmines in Dublin, where George Yeats lived between her husband’s death in 1939 and her own death almost thirty years later. Mrs Yeats lived, Ellmann wrote ...

Lily and Lolly

Sarah Rigby

18 July 1996
The Yeats Sisters: A Biography of Susan and Elizabeth Yeats 
by Joan Hardwick.
Pandora, 263 pp., £8.99, January 1996, 0 04 440924 9
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... his second volume of poems. He had become heavily involved with Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society; he was courting new friends, including Maud Gonne, and writing a few reviews. According to RichardEllmann, William too was offered a job at this time, but turned it down because it was on a Unionist newspaper. Jack was at art college. At the end of that year, Lily took a job with William Morris ...

Supermax

John Bayley

8 December 1988
The Letters of Max Beerbohm 1892-1956 
edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Murray, 244 pp., £16.95, August 1988, 0 7195 4537 4
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The Faber Book of Letters 
edited by Felix Pryor.
Faber, 319 pp., £12.95, October 1988, 0 571 15269 4
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... Biographers want to explain things too – often by an unconscious wish to identify themselves with their subjects. I have something in common with Joyce, and with Wilde, is the modest assumption of RichardEllmann. Max was a bit like me, implies Cecil. That brings them, and us, all the closer to the subject. It can also lead to misunderstanding. Oddly enough, as Cecil’s admirable biography shows ...
18 October 1984
The Mystery Religion of W.B. Yeats 
by Graham Hough.
Harvester, 129 pp., £15.95, May 1984, 0 7108 0603 5
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Yeats, Eliot, Pound and the Politics of Poetry 
by Cairns Craig.
Croom Helm, 323 pp., £14.95, January 1982, 9780856649974
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Yeats. Poems 1919-1935: A Selection of Critical Essays 
edited by Elizabeth Cullingford.
Macmillan, 238 pp., £14, July 1984, 0 333 27422 9
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The Poet and his Audience 
by Ian Jack.
Cambridge, 198 pp., £20, July 1984, 0 521 26034 5
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A New Commentary on the Poems of W.B. Yeats 
by A. Norman Jeffares.
Macmillan, 543 pp., £35, May 1984, 0 333 35214 9
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Poems of W.B. Yeats 
by A. Norman Jeffares.
Macmillan, 428 pp., £17, August 1984, 0 333 36213 6
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... speculated about the connections between Yeats’s authoritarian politics and his interest in occultism. It is useful to be able to see this essay again in the company of Eliot, Tate and, above all, RichardEllmann, whose 1954 elucidation of A Vision restored a balance to the discussion of Yeats’s ideas which the pseudo-Augustan iconoclasm of Yvor Winters was not sufficient to upset. Elizabeth ...

Mauve Monkeys

William Fiennes

18 September 1997
Wilde’s Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy and the First World War 
by Philip Hoare.
Duckworth, 250 pp., £16.95, July 1997, 0 7156 2737 6
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... Samuel Hynes’s A War Imagined. The Billing trial was not Wilde’s last stand. It would take more than a ham actor and a man called Darling to put an end to the influence of a writer whose wit, as RichardEllmann has said, was itself ‘an agent of renewal’. As for the Black Book, Spencer’s mysterious compendium of licentiousness remains the MacGuffin of Wilde’s Last Stand, the existence of ...

After-Lives

John Sutherland

5 November 1992
Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Hutchinson, 344 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 09 174263 3
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Testamentary Acts: Browning, Tennyson, James, Hardy 
by Michael Millgate.
Oxford, 273 pp., £27.50, June 1992, 0 19 811276 9
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The Last Laugh 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 131 pp., £10.99, December 1991, 0 7011 4583 8
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Trollope 
by Victoria Glendinning.
Hutchinson, 551 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 09 173896 2
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... pass his/her examinations. Hamilton discusses the emergence of the idea of the English poetic career (in his chapter on Marvell, Milton and Dryden) without reference to Lawrence Lipking or Richard Helgerson. The Forster-Dickens chapter makes no mention of the alternative line of Dickens biography that descends through Thomas Wright and Katherine Longley to our contemporaries Peter Ackroyd and ...
1 September 1988
... for display as in a hard-porn close-up. The sense of complicity between them recalls, in its total transcendence of shame, the erotic correspondence in 1909 between James and Nora Joyce. Joyce, as RichardEllmann puts it, ‘wishes to possess his wife’s soul, and have her possess him, in utter nakedness. To know someone else beyond love and hate, beyond vanity and remorse, beyond human possibility ...
17 November 1983
The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 185 pp., £7.95, April 1983, 0 241 10964 7
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The Importance of Being Constance: A Biography of Oscar Wilde’s Wife 
by Joyce Bentley.
Hale, 160 pp., £8.75, May 1983, 0 7090 0538 5
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Mrs Oscar Wilde: A Woman of Some Importance 
by Anne Clark Amor.
Sidgwick, 249 pp., £8.95, June 1983, 9780283989674
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... Yeats designs in Autobiographies links him to Parnell and to a potent combination of Paterian aestheticism, homoeroticism and Christianity. Yeats is using that metaphor of the hunted animal which RichardEllmann has shown to be a traditional image that was ‘applied to Parnell in his last phase’ and adopted by both Yeats and Joyce. In Ulysses, Joyce designs an analogy between Parnell and ‘our ...

British Worthies

David Cannadine

3 December 1981
The Directory of National Biography, 1961-1970 
edited by E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 1178 pp., £40, October 1981, 0 19 865207 0
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... detested the fizzy drinks upon which the prosperity of his firm depended’. One can only agree with that ‘poet, playwright, critic, editor and publisher’, T.S. Eliot (whose later life, RichardEllmann informs us, ‘became rather stately’): ‘I did not know death had undone so many.’ When originally conceived, Lee observed that ‘national biography must be prepared to satisfy the ...

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