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R. Ellmann, 69; Noted Authority on James Joyce

May 16, 1987

Richard Ellmann, considered the pre-eminent biographer of James Joyce and a professor emeritus of English literature at Oxford University, died Wednesday in Oxford.

He was 69 and, although crippled with Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), had continued to work on his most recent biography, that of Oscar Wilde.

Ellmann, born in Michigan, served in the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II and afterward did graduate studies at Trinity College in Dublin. It was there that he began his work with modern Irish authors, primarily Joyce but including William Butler Yeats.

He followed his 1959 "James Joyce," which won a U.S. National Book Award in 1960, with the "Selected Letters of James Joyce" in 1976 and then in 1982, the year of Joyce's centenary, revised the earlier biography with additional material he had gathered over the ensuing years.

"He wrote undoubtedly the greatest biography of the 20th Century," said David Norris, a noted Joycean scholar at Trinity College. "It ranks alongside (James) Boswell's 'The Life of Samuel Johnson.' "

Ellmann, who also taught at Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago, was a widely published essayist on such contemporary writers as T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Samuel Beckett and Ezra Pound.

In 1983 he was a primary source for "The World of James Joyce," a PBS salute to the author of "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake" which marked the first time that an Irish television production was sold to a national network in the United States. It eventually was seen in 20 other countries.

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