Ellmann, Richard

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ELLMANN, RICHARD (1918–1987), U.S./British literary biographer and critic. One of the most eminent of recent literary biographers, Richard Ellmann was born in suburban Detroit, the son of a lawyer, and was educated at Yale University. When stationed in Britain during World War ii he became interested in studying the lives of the leading modern Irish writers, and produced a long list of path-breaking and highly regarded studies and biographies, beginning with his life of William Butler Yeats, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (1948). Much of Ellmann's professional career was spent at Northwestern University in Illinois (from 1951 to 1968). From 1970 to 1982 he lived in England, where he was Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, the first American to hold this position. Ellmann returned to the United States in 1982, although he died in Oxford in 1987. Ellmann's long and distinguished list of works include his much-lauded biography James Joyce (1959), based on ten years of research, and Oscar Wilde (1987), completed immediately before his death, which received the Pulitzer Prize, as well as many other biographical works and essays. Ellmann was notable for the respect in which he held his subjects, declining, in contrast to many biographers, to concentrate on their pathologies. Ellmann was also the co-editor (with Robert O'Clair) of The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973), a standard collection. A posthumous Festschrift in his honor, edited by Susan Dick et al., Essays for Richard Ellmann: Omnium Gatherum, appeared in 1989.


R.E. Johnsen, "Richard David Ellmann," in: John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (eds.), American National Biography, vol. 7 (1999), 453–54.

[William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]