He would have been also irritated when I had read his Marcel Proust: A Life. And then, to add to the pertinence of these two biographies, both Joyce and Marcel Proust constructed their works out of their own lives. So in this extraordinary biography of this extraordinary writer we have Ellmann extracting the Self out of the continuous representation of the Self or Selves of James Joyce. An additional attraction of Ellmanns version is that he is keen in pursuing the writers Joyce met and what he read, as well as in collecting his comments and views on literature. One can either contemplate Brancusis version of James Joyce, as seen above, or read Richard Ellmanns account.
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. He took his own sweet time producing his works and apart from a few poems and a play, there are only four: Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. He had a slash and burn attitude to literature after Dubliners, no more short stories; after Portrait, no more conventional narrative; after Ulysses, no more English language. but Joyce took no notice and carried on his by now completely incomprehensible way for another 16 years and though nobody understood a word of what he was writing they continued to pay him, thats how much they knew he was a genius. But Ulysses is the most outrageous most beautiful and funniest novel ever, so Joyce is forgiven for his portrait of himself as a young arse. Joyce bragged that his book would keep the professors busy for a hundred years and he wasnt wrong. It tries to be honest about the way people actually think and what they do Bloom in his toilet, Bloom masturbating, but Joyce is presenting him as just an ordinary guy doing ordinary things. And this offended many people and got Ulysses banned for years. Joyce said : If Ulysses isnt fit to read, life isnt fit to live . A final word about Finnegans wake, the one nobody reads. I could actually get two lines of writing between every two Finnegans Wake lines and I used twelve colours of ink to specify different languages. JJ appears in Ellman's book as an odd bird, obsessed and unflinching, more well-read than Borges, a bit of a perv, as uxorious as John was with Yoko, a charming friend-maker and altogether one of the nicer geniuses we've had.
Highly recommended read and the only reason I haven't given it five stars is that it could have been shorter.
What important people are saying about Richard Ellmanns 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. Ellmann, Yes! A story of imperialism, racism, sexism, genocide and violence and so on, the likes of which history had never before witnessed. -- Beeves and Butts This is the Joyce biography weve been waiting for ever since Gormans rather inadequate thing. -- vejk Having read Ellmanns biography, like reading Finnegans Wake, will certainly make the most entrenched Joyceans almost unendurable to the wider world. -- Eric Joyce ruined fiction. Ellmann ruined biography. -- Franzen Joyce very much liked spanking the maid.
The ingenuity with which he wrote his books was the same with which he forced the world to read them; the smiling affection he extended to Bloom and his other principal characters was the same that he gave to the members of his family; his disregard for bourgeois thrift and convention "was the splendid extravagance which enabled him in literature to make an intractable wilderness into a new state. The intensity of the first gave his work its sympathy and humanity; the intensity of the second raised his life to dignity and high dedication.
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. Ellman provides analyses of each book, from creation through publication, the whole torturous path, and along the way also gives the reader so much enlightening information that assures future reading of any Joyce works will be different. I have marked several sections to be read when I read Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and (probably) Ulysses again. (p 744) I highly recommend this superb biography to anyone interested in James Joyce, in literary biograpy, or any of Mr Joyce's literary works.