[Paleopsych] TLS: (Lucia Joyce): A mania for insects

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A mania for insects
    Brenda Maddox
    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
    family privacy.

    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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