[Paleopsych] TLS: (Lucia Joyce): A mania for insects
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A mania for insects
02 July 2004
LUCIA JOYCE. To dance in the Wake. By Carol Loeb Shloss. 561pp.
Bloomsbury. £20. 0 7475 7033 7. US: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $30. 0
374 19424 6
James Joyce made a religion of himself, with two sacred days in his
ecclesiastical calendar: his birthday, on February 2, and June 16, the
day in 1904 when he first walked out with Nora Barnacle, the girl who
became his wife, and on which he subsequently set the entire action of
Ulysses. His nimbus encompasses his Holy Family group. Nora and his
father have been the subject of biographies. His brother, Stanislaus,
wrote his own. Now, Carol Loeb Shloss focuses on Joyce's daughter,
Lucia, with emphasis on her brief career as a modern dancer. So far,
only his son, Giorgio - also an artist, and a trained baritone who
might have become a concert singer instead of an alcoholic had he had
a less awesome father - has escaped treatment.
The cause of Joyce's greatest anguish, Lucia was born in Trieste in
1907, the second child of impoverished and (until 1931) unwed parents.
With them, she moved to Zurich during the First World War, and later
to Paris where Joyce, on Ezra Pound's advice, found the Modernist
milieu conducive to finishing Ulysses. At home the Joyces spoke
Italian, or a Triestine dialect thereof (a fact which makes nonsense
of the Irish brogues affected by the actors playing Giorgio and Lucia
in Michael Hastings's recent play, Calico). The children's rackety
upbringing was marked by the two abrupt changes of language and
schooling as well as by constant shifts of address in whichever city
they were living. They were scarred too by sharing their home with
their obsessive artist father, who was becoming blind. Perhaps worse,
was the sudden celebrity, following the 1922 publication of Ulysses.
Both young Joyces began their own romantic lives under its fierce
glare. In 1931, Giorgio married a New York divorcee ten years his
senior, a woman delighted to enter the inner circle of the great
writer. In the late 1920s, Lucia fell in love with the young Samuel
Beckett (as dramatized in Calico) and was heartbroken when he made
clear that his prime interest was in her father, rather than her.
Erratically, Lucia found lovers and, briefly in 1932, a fiance.
Serious trouble had manifested itself in 1932, on Joyce's fiftieth
birthday, when Lucia hurled a chair at her mother. Subsequently,
Giorgio had her removed to a maison de sante.
Her behaviour became increasingly irrational, and Joyce asked himself
if he was to blame. He encouraged her work as a designer of
illuminated initials, lettrines, in order that she should not think
her whole life a failure. Dispatched to England, to his generous and
long-suffering patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, then to relatives in
Ireland, she manifested unexplained disappearances, catatonia,
incendiarism, sexual mania. Throughout the 1930s, Lucia endured a
succession of French and Swiss sanatoriums. The crude, often cruel,
treatments of the day - solitary confinement, straitjackets, enforced
rest, sea-water injections, even (in Zurich with Carl Jung) an attempt
at the "talking cure" - had no visible benefit. In 1939, she was sent
to a clinic near La Baule, and never lived outside an institution
Joyce's distress at the plight of his beloved daughter was intensifed
with the fall of France in 1940. Giorgio's wife had had a breakdown
and returned to the United States. Joyce, Nora, Giorgio and grandson,
Stephen, left Paris in the autumn of 1939. From the village of
Saint-Gerand-le-Puy near Vichy, Joyce laboured to move his family,
including Lucia, to Switzerland. Agonizingly, just as he finally
managed to clear Swiss and French bureaucratic hurdles, Lucia's exit
permit from the Occupation authorities expired. So, in December 1940,
the Joyce family left France without her. In time, Joyce might have
succeeded in finding a place for his daughter in a Swiss clinic.
Yet on January 13, 1941, following an operation for a perforated
ulcer, he died.
Thereafter, Lucia's welfare was handled by Joyce's London lawyers
together with Miss Weaver.
Even once the the Second World War was over, getting funds from
Britain to the Continent was difficult. In 1951, when Nora Joyce died
in Zurich, Miss Weaver, as Lucia's legal guardian, arranged for her
transfer to England, to St Andrew's Hospital, Northampton, where her
bills could be paid and she could be visited, and where she remained
until her death in 1982. With the advent of phenothyazine drugs in the
1950s, she was calm and tractable. She might have lived outside an
institution, had there been anywhere for her to go.
So much is known. Carol Shloss, a lecturer at Stanford University, has
chosen to tell Lucia's story as that of a thwarted dancer and a
silenced woman. In Paris, the young Lucia became a pupil of Raymond
Duncan (brother of Isadora); then, at eighteen, she joined Margaret
Morris (granddaughter of William) in her school of modern dance.
Subsequently, she became a performing member of "Les Six de rythme et
couleur". Her party piece was an amusing imitation of Charlie Chaplin.
She travelled with her group to Austria and Germany, and enjoyed life
away from her family for the first time. In 1929 she decided to become
a Morris teacher, but then turned down an offer to join a group in
Darmstadt and effectively gave up dancing. Joyce told Harriet Weaver
that this resulted in "a month of tears as she thinks she has thrown
away three or four years of hard work and is sacrificing a talent".
Therein lies Shloss's book. Her research is impressive. Joyce studies
are the richer for her mining of the Paul Leon papers at the National
Library of Ireland.
Leon rescued the papers from Joyce's Paris flat in 1940 and lodged
them with the Irish Consul in the city, with instructions that in the
event of his and Joyce's death, they were to go to the Dublin library,
and not to be opened until fifty years after Joyce's death. Soon
after, the Nazis arrested Leon, and he died in an internment camp in
1942. Thus it was not until 1991 that the papers became available to
scholars and it was possible to take a detailed look at the financial
records of Lucia's medical treatments. Other archives available to
Shloss are those of Richard Ellmann, and Joyce's close friends in
Paris, Maria Jolas and Stuart Gilbert. These have enabled Shloss to
give previously unknown details of Lucia's friendships and love
affairs in Paris -her involvement with the artistic Fernandez family,
and with various beaux. Her medical records for gynaecological care
suggest a possible abortion in 1933 or 1934.
But all this good scholarship is undermined by Shloss's intemperate,
polemical tone. She appears to hold the Laingian view that mental
illness is a response to a harsh society's intolerance of aberrant
behaviour, rather than a sadly common affliction, often inherited,
often striking young people in late adolescence or early adulthood.
She is not interested in the possibility that, in the case of Lucia,
genetics could be relevant. And she dismisses the varied professional
psychiatric diagnoses offered for what even Joyce recognized as "a
fire in her (Lucia's) brain". The frustrated dancer is the key to
Shloss's wordy interpretation:
In illness as in health, Lucia continued to experience the lessons of
the dance world and to use its wisdom in her response to experience.
Western culture is built upon a system of exclusions, and the
expressive, "dancing" body is regulated, disciplined, normalized, and
individualized in proportion to the fears it arouses about
In Shloss's view, Lucia was not schizophrenic but "Dionysian".
Starting fires or trying to unbutton men's trousers was "bacchic
activity". Later efforts, notably by Lucia's nephew, Stephen Joyce, to
prevent written accounts of her life are attributed to a determination
to expunge traces of a gifted female, rather than a wish to protect
Shloss's culprits include Giorgio, for being the first to send Lucia
to a mental hospital; Jung for misunderstanding Ulysses; Ellmann and
myself (as the biographer of Nora Joyce) for perpetuating the myth
that Lucia was mad; and Nora for being a jealous and rejecting mother.
Shloss is most convincing when she discusses Lucia's influence on
Ulysses and on Finnegans Wake. Both books, wisely or not, can be read
as coded autobiographies.
Incest themes are detectable. Scholars of Ulysses have long noticed
the incestuous ruminations of Leopold Bloom about his daughter, Milly.
Although she is away in Mullingar, Bloom's mind is full of thoughts
about her doomed virginity: "A soft qualm of regret, flowed down his
backbone, increasing. Will happen, yes.
Prevent. Useless". And what is the hidden secret of the Wake? Scholars
ponder what is meant by the pivotal word "insect". Incest? Father, or
brother? Shloss observes that during much of her girlhood Lucia had to
share a room and perhaps a bed with Giorgio. Yet it is one thing to
say that Lucia helped her father with his word-games and research for
the magnificent dead-end of the Wake.
It is quite another to declare that, after Giorgio's marriage, the
book became for Lucia "a rival sibling" and, in time, "a fantastical
child", of which she, the "daughter wife", was part author. And the
assertion that the Joyce-Lucia relationship was "one of the great love
stories of the twentieth century" is preposterous.
It is interesting to speculate just how good a dancer Lucia was. Some
lovely photographs exist. None, however, conveys the grace or elegance
of those showing her mentor, Margaret Morris. The main surviving
critical judgement of Lucia's abilities is an often quoted sentence
from an interview in the Paris Times in 1928: "When she reaches her
full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as
his daughter's father". Yet the existence of this sentence suggests
that, to the Paris of her time, her main distinction was precisely
that she was her father's daughter.
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