Fryderyk Chopin: A life and times
Faber & Faber, $59.99 hb, 756 pp, 9780571348558
The author and critic Richard Ellmann died in May 1987, a handful of months before the publication of his biography of Oscar Wilde. Twenty years in the making, the book instantly established a benchmark in literary biography. Psychologically astute and critically nuanced, Oscar Wilde invites the reader into a world of bourgeois values – moral and artistic – that leads so tragically to the grim poverty and degradation of Wilde’s final years.
Ellmann had cut his teeth over three decades earlier with a biography of James Joyce (1959), written when many of those who had known him were still alive. Yet it took his study of Joyce’s fellow countryman to demonstrate the virtuosity and sheer nerve necessary to recreate a life in print so many years after the subject’s death. He takes the reader by the hand and never lets go, no matter how rough the terrain.