Ellmann, Richard (1918–87), literary historian and critic, was born 15 March 1918 in Highland Park, Michigan, USA, son of James Isaac Ellmann and Jeanette Ellmann (née Barsook). Ellmann was educated at Highland Park school and Yale University, where he was awarded a BA with exceptional distinction in English (1939) and an MA (1941). During the second world war he worked as an instructor at Harvard (1942–3) and in the Office of Strategic Services, United States Naval Reserve (1943–6). Afterwards he travelled to Dublin, where he became friendly with Sean O'Faolain (qv) and Frank O'Connor (qv), and developed a distaste for stereotypical ‘paddywhackery’. In 1947 he was awarded a B.Litt. at TCD before returning to Yale, where he received his doctorate for a study of W. B. Yeats (qv) which won him the John Addison Porter prize for the best dissertation of the year. He then embarked on a remarkably full teaching career which involved positions as assistant professor of English composition at Harvard (1948–51), professor of English at Northwestern University (1951), Franklin Bliss Snyder professor at Northwestern University (1963–8), professor of English literature at New College, Oxford University (1970–84) and Woodruff professor of English, Emory (1982–6). He also served as a member of the US–UK education commission (1970–85). Ellman's publications reflect a life devoted to Irish literary criticism and biography, including Yeats: the man and the masks (1948), The identity of Yeats (1954), James Joyce: a biography (1959), The consciousness of Joyce (1977), Ulysses in the Liffey (1972), Oscar Wilde at Oxford (1984), and Samuel Beckett: Nayman of Noland (1986). He transformed the landscape of Irish literary criticism, challenging conventional ideas by combining intense textual scrutiny with scrupulous attention to biographical detail. In examining the poetry of Yeats, the plays of Oscar Wilde (qv), and the prose of James Joyce (qv), he advanced an inclusive approach to literature, insisting on the ultimate connections between the artist's life and work, developing a ‘modern tradition’ or ‘new criticism’ which departed from traditional critiques centred on the absolute self-sufficiency of the literary text. A prime example was his celebration of Joyce and his character Leopold Bloom as ‘womanly-man’, which seemed eccentric in 1959 but involved an attempt to define the essential elements of modernism. As a teacher he was an innovator, frequently inviting students to see the artist as he saw himself, encouraging them to ‘take the poets apart’. His admirers saw him as providing a critic commensurate with the Irish authors' capacity for complexity, a skill lacking in native critics, and suggested that while he was born into an age of new criticism and died in an age of critical theory, he never fully belonged to either group, being too sophisticated to be labelled categorically. His own works certainly became a fundamental part of the context of modern criticism. He also spoke out on behalf of victims of spiritual and sexual intolerance and censorship. His academic standing was reflected in honorary doctorates from the NUI (1976), and the Universities of Gothenburg (1978), Boston (1979), Emory (1979). Northwestern (1980), Rochester (1981) and McGill (1986). He died 13 May 1987 at Oxford, England. He married (1949) Mary Donahue; they had one son and two daughters, one of whom, Maud, also became a noted authority on Joyce.
WWW; Susan Dick and Declan Kiberd (ed.), Omnium gatherum: essays for Richard Ellmann (1989); Welch